The President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, has a mostly ceremonial role as the official head of state. After an election with a clear political victory for one side, he is in charge of the mere formality of asking the obvious winner to form a government.
This time however, this process will be a lot more significant. It is not clear who will get the first opportunity to try to form a government. Neither is it certain that it is desirable – it might be easier to be the second one to try to form a government, when everyone knows that the first one failed.
Rivlin makes this decision based on which candidate has the backing of the biggest number of Knesset members, whether this reaches a majority or not. Each party decides to recommend a candidate, or none at all.
Out of the 120 seats in the Israeli Knesset, the Blue White party has 33 seats and the two Israeli left parties have another 11. That means that Gantz have 44 certain recommendations. Likud has 31 seats, and if we put all the religious and settler parties together they have a total of 24 seats, which gives Netanyahu 55 certain recommendations.
Until today it seemed like Netanyahu would get the first mandate to form the government, but then the Joint List party which represents the Israeli Arab minority decided to recommend Gantz. They have 13 seats, so even if this is not enough for a majority, it pushes Gantz to 57 recommendations, above Netanyahu, and might just give him the first opportunity to form a government.
This is the first time an Arab party recommends someone since 1992. They explained that even though they have disagreements with Gantz, the general of the 2014 war in Gaza, they still wish to do everything in their power to depose Netanyahu.
Will this work, and will it lead to Gantz becoming the next prime minister? And if so, will he feel obliged to give concessions to Arab demands? Or will he fail to build a coalition, thereby giving Netanyahu a stronger chance?
Liberman’s party with 8 seats is the party that can tip the scale either way, but they have decided not to recommend anyone, as their demands are not being met. They recommended Rivlin to speak to both Gantz and Netanyahu with the goal of creating a unity government. They are striving for that scenario, and it is less important for them who becomes Prime Minister. “Let them flip a coin, or fight each other,” Liberman stated in an interview with Israeli channel 12.
As it stands right now, it looks like Gantz might be entrusted with the initial task to build a government – and Netanyahu will do everything to make sure Gantz fails.