Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (right) tasks Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with forming a new government at the president’s official residence in Jerusalem on September 25. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Netanyahu Given First Shot at Coalition: A Chinese Curse

According to the variety of rumors surrounding the battle for Israel’s prime ministry, it’s possible that incumbent Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is not celebrating President Reuven Rivlin’s decision to give him first shot at assembling a coalition government. Although he apparently got what he wished for, conventional wisdom fueled by local media is that neither he nor rival Benny Gantz preferred the first chance at coalition building, but rather felt the other’s failure would boost their chances. The head of the Arab list said in a posting that the Balad party withdrew support for Gantz at Gantz’s request in order to allow Netanyahu to fail. In return, Gantz promised to deter a piece of legislation opposed by the Arab-Israeli bloc.

Rivlin handed Netanyahu the baton as the unity talks were being declared dead. But those talks remain key to either man’s ability to succeed and will presumably continue in some form during the 28 days Netanyahu has been given to form his government. This, despite challenger Blue-and-White’s official position that it won’t sit in a government with a prime minister who is under indictment – a reference to Netanyahu’s legal woes — indictments are expected but not yet issued – but seen by many analysts as an excuse for refusing to compromise and enter a power-share agreement with Netanyahu’s Likud Party. The ultimatum appears to be driven primarily by Yair Lapid, the biggest loser if a unity agreement is made. Lapid’s own party was near political oblivion when he latched on to Gantz. Despite polling showing Lapid to be the weak link among voters, Gantz not only left him on the ticket but entered his own power-share agreement with Lapid, each man to serve as prime minister for half the term. That deal would not survive a unity government with Likud.

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