In a highly contentious and, at times, raucous ceremony, Israel’s 24th parliament was sworn in on Tuesday, precisely one year after the 23rd parliament took its oath and less than two years since the nation’s 21st parliament was established.
Parliaments in Israel are supposed to be elected for a term of four years.
Israel’s seemingly unresolvable political crisis, which has included four consecutive elections and one failed attempt at a unity government, entered a new phase Tuesday evening as the 120 parliament members pledged to “bear allegiance to the State of Israel and faithfully discharge my mandate in the Knesset.”
Two weeks ago, Israel held its fourth general election in two years, which appears to have produced yet another deadlock to forming a new government.
“The differences that divide our society are real and of substance, but sometimes we must resolve even the toughest disagreements,” President Reuven Rivlin told the new lawmakers during the swearing-in ceremony.
“If we don’t find a way to live here together, our national resilience is at risk. The Israeli people look to you to show leadership,” Rivlin cautioned, while outside the parliament building dozens of protesters chanted and shouted, trying to drown out the president’s words.
The differences that divide our society are real and of substance, but sometimes we must resolve even the toughest disagreements
The demonstrators called on Rivlin to withdraw his decision from earlier on Tuesday to select Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to form Israel’s next government.
After consulting with representatives from all of the parties elected to the parliament, the president announced he would nominate the incumbent, giving Netanyahu 28 days, with a possible two-week extension, to present his coalition.
“I am well aware of the opinion of many out there, that the president should not award the mandate to an indicted candidate,” Rivlin said in explaining his decision on Tuesday morning.
“I don’t take this decision lightly. It’s difficult, from a moral and ethical perspective,” he added, but noted that the question of barring an indicted individual from serving as premier should be taken up by parliament, not the presidency.
Netanyahu is standing trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
“I will do the utmost to prove the voters right and establish a strong, homogeneous government,” Netanyahu promised after receiving the nomination. “A government of action, that will be united in policy and in deed.”
If the prime minister fails in his mission, the president can then either name a second candidate or pass the decision on to the Knesset itself, a move that will most likely lead to Israel’s fifth election in two and a half years.
Following the president’s address to the nation Tuesday morning, scores of outraged of protesters spontaneously arrived at the Knesset building ahead of the late afternoon swearing-in ceremony, denouncing Rivlin’s unprecedented decision to select an indicted candidate to try to establish a government.
“There’s just no way we can allow this disgraceful scene to happen without saying a word,” Ilan, who came to Jerusalem from the nearby suburb of Har Adar, told The Media Line.
“We’re protesting the fact that a man charged with the most severe crimes, that would prevent him from serving in any other public office, is being given the reins to form a government,” he said.
Demonstrators also protested the entrance into parliament of a new extreme right-wing party, which during the past months’ campaign espoused racist, homophobic views.
We’re protesting the fact that a man charged with the most severe crimes, that would prevent him from serving in any other public office, is being given the reins to form a government
Yet Netanyahu’s task to lock in a viable, stable government in 28 days will be anything but a walk in the park.
Failing once again to secure 61 supporters in March’s elections, the prime minister will need to either convince several lawmakers from the opposite camp that swore to unseat him to defect to his side, or construct a highly improbable coalition consisting of extreme right-wing parties and the Islamist United Arab List.
Some of Netanyahu’s allies have already ruled out the latter option, refusing to sit with what they called “terror sympathizers,” leaving the embattled prime minister with limited options.
“He’ll try to entice a couple of defectors, and build a narrow right-wing government. He’s a master at that,” said Itzik Elrov, a political strategist who advised the Labor party in the latest round of elections.
“The fact that the other side, the anti-Netanyahu bloc, failed to reach understandings, win the nomination from the president and then form a government, is incredible. Now they’ll have to wait a month before maybe getting their shot,” he said.