Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government before his term expired on Tuesday evening, placing him in the most vulnerable position he has faced politically since becoming prime minister in 2009 .
Why is this important: This is the third time in the past two years that Netanyahu has had the first chance to form a government without succeeding. But this time his rivals may be able to form a government without him.
And after: President Reuven Rivlin has three days to hold consultations with the various parties before deciding who will receive the next term.
- Rivlin aides tell me he’s most likely to give the mandate to centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid, who has at least 45 members behind him in the 120-seat Knesset.
In the wings: For nearly two weeks, it has been clear that Netanyahu had no path to a majority.
- Rather, he focused on trying to drive a wedge between Lapid and Naftali Bennett, the leader of a right-wing party. The two negotiated for an alternative government.
- Netanyahu has considered unprecedented measures to try to sabotage the transfer of the mandate to Lapid, Tal Shalev reported for Walla News, including falsely notifying Rivlin that he has formed a government. After his plans were exposed, he backed down.
- Netanyahu also considered ordering his right-wing bloc to recommend Rivlin to give the mandate to Bennett, rather than Lapid. Netanyahu could then pressure Bennett to negotiate only with his fellow Conservatives. But that plan also fell apart after Bennett refused to rule out negotiations with Lapid.
The state of play: The contours of a possible Lapid-Bennett power-sharing deal are already clear.
- Although Bennett’s party won just seven seats in the Knesset, Lapid would allow him to be prime minister for two years before returning to the post for two years.
- The center-left, which won more seats, would however control most of the government ministries. All government decisions should be decided by consensus and each bloc would have veto power.
- The government would avoid controversial ideological questions and focus on post-COVID recovery, the economy and restoring some unity in the country after four consecutive election campaigns.
Yes, but: It is not certain that Lapid and Bennett will be able to sort out all the remaining issues and replace the longest-serving Israeli prime minister.
What to watch: For Netanyahu, this is a desperate time. As well as watching the tenure pass to his rivals, he also faces an ongoing corruption trial that could eventually land him in jail.
- Yet the lesson of recent Israeli policy is never to count it.