The 22nd Knesset sworn in under threat of 3rd election in a year

Yesterday, the 22nd Knesset swearing in ceremony was held. Both President Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke about the urgent need for a unity government. Rivlin nicknamed elections “the most expensive reality program.”

At the same time as this ceremony was held in the Knesset, Netanyahu’s lawyers were busy on the other side of Jerusalem in the second day of hearings, defending Netanyahu against the corruption charges. The attorney general of Israel, Avichai Mandelblit, wishes to make a decision before the end of 2019 on whether to press criminal charges against Netanyahu or not. This has never before happened to a sitting Prime Minister in the history of Israel. The threat of this is looming over the coalition negotiations. The Blue and White party of Benny Gantz do want a unity government with the Likud, but have major reservations against Netanyahu himself.

Last week Netanyahu received the mandate from the president, which gives him 28 days to create a government. As the negotiations are stuck, many assumed that Netanyahu might return the mandate to the president already this week. Instead, Netanyahu holds on to it while trying to establish his position. Once he gives the mandate back to Rivlin, it is up to Rivlin to decide whether to give Gantz a chance, or if he will go directly to the unchartered waters of the “21 days” of the Knesset – the last phase of coalition negotiations where it is up to the Knesset to find a candidate, or else the law demands another election.

One of the ways for Netanyahu to establish his position is to call for primaries – an internal election in the Likud party. He said that he was considering it, probably hoping to win it easily and thereby shoot down Blue and White’s hopes of a Likud party without Netanyahu. However, one of the most prominent ministers and leaders in the Likud, Gideon Saar, immediately twittered two words: “I’m ready.” As the setting up of elections like these would take at least a month, he might have to face this election with criminal charges pressed against him, which would weaken him. Some high ranked ministers in Likud have reportedly tried to talk Netanyahu out of it, saying that he has nothing to gain from such a move.

Another thing Netanyahu did to establish his position was asking the other right wing parties to sign a commitment to recommend him during any future negotiations, even if we reach the unchartered waters of “the 21 days.” The ultra-orthodox parties signed it, while the Yamina settler party did not agree.

From the other political parties things are being done to facilitate an eventual unity government. Lieberman stated that unless they reach a breakthrough by Yom Kippur, he will suggest his own solution. Yair Lapid, number two in the Blue and White party, has announced that he gives up the agreement of rotation he had with Gantz, in order to facilitate a unity government coalition.

Both Netanyahu and Rivlin spoke about the urgent need for a unity government due to “an unprecedented security threat to Israel, which we haven’t seen for many years.” They could allude to a planned surprise attack from Iran, which seems plausible. Iran has lately shown higher aggression in the Persian Gulf without suffering much international reaction. Should a drone attack, or something of this magnitude indeed happen, it would scramble all the cards and probably lead to the quick setup of a unity government, pushing all reservations and previous commitments aside. Could this be the reason Netanyahu is not in a hurry to give the mandate back to the president?