Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will most likely announce as soon as next week that he is unable to form a government, which will bring Israel closer to a third national election. Both Channel 12 and Channel 13 have reported that, despite having 28 days to try to muster a Knesset majority (and 14 more days if an extension is needed), Netanyahu will return his mandate to President Reuven Rivlin as soon as the festival of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) is over, according to The Times of Israel.
After that, Rivlin will grant the mandate to Netanyahu’s rival, Benny Gantz, to try to do the same, but the Times speculates that it is unlikely that the Prime Minister’s Likud party lawmakers will switch sides; therefore, Gantz will also come to Rivlin empty-handed. This situation will mean that Israel will begin preparing for a third election, after two elections – this April and September – failed to give a definitive victory to either the Likud or the Blue and White party.
Currently, Netanyahu’s Likud leads a 55-seat bloc of ultra-orthodox and right-wing parties, while the Blue and White leads a 54-seat coalition of centrist, left-wing and Arab politicians. The strictly secular Yisrael Beiteinu party could make a difference by throwing in their support to either but so far has refused to do so.
Following negotiations this week, Likud accepted Rivlin’s proposal to form a unity government, with rotational premiership, but Blue and White refused to work with Likud as long as Netanyahu, who faces indictment in three criminal cases of corruption, leads the party.
In an attempt to break the deadlock, Rivlin suggested that Netanyahu take a temporary leave of absence until his legal troubles are resolved. While he is away, Gantz could step in as an ‘interim Prime Minister’ with full ministerial powers, even though Netanyahu and his family would remain in the Prime Minister’s residence.
While Likud expressed their interest in the arrangement, it is unclear if Netanyahu would actually take a leave of absence. A legal precedent in Israel indicates that a Prime Minister can remain in power even after a conviction, until all appeal options are exhausted.
His hearing with the attorney general is scheduled for next Wednesday, according to The Times. Netanyahu denies all the charges, claiming that he is a victim of a “political witch hunt”, involving media, opposition, police and state prosecutors, the report says.