Pro-Netanyahu Bloc Lacks Majority, Opposition Seeks Law to Oust PM
With the votes counted from Israel’s election on Monday, Likud Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing and ultra-Orthodox bloc won 58 seats in the next parliament, shy of a majority in the 120-member body. The tally is still technically unofficial as reported voting irregularities must be investigated at some two dozen polling stations, although the Central Elections Committee said that it did not expect any shifts in the balance of power. Specifically, Netanyahu’s Likud party garnered 36 mandates in Monday’s contest compared to 33 for its chief competitor, the Blue and White list led by former military chief of staff Benny Gantz. Given the margin of victory, Netanyahu would, under normal circumstances, almost certainly be given the first opportunity to form a government. But the opposition is moving to block this eventuality. Blue and White officials on Wednesday confirmed that they were working to get at least 61 lawmakers to support legislation that would bar an indicted parliamentarian, such as Netanyahu, from serving as prime minister of a new government. This would require the backing of another center-left party in addition to the Joint List, a predominantly Arab alliance that made ousting Netanyahu one of its central campaign themes. Perhaps trickiest, though, would be getting ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu head Avigdor Liberman on board. However, despite having reportedly nixed a similar plan following the inconclusive September election, there are rumors he could be swayed this time around if offered a high-profile ministry in the next government. Should the initiative be actualized, the president would need to task another lawmaker with the job of forming a new government, rather than Netanyahu, whose trial on corruption charges is slated to begin March 17. Yet it remains unclear whether Israeli law allows for such sensitive legislation to be passed during a transitional political period and it is likely that the courts would be asked to weigh in on the matter.