Israeli President Reuven Rivlin granted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an extension of two weeks on his deadline to form a coalition government Monday, as the original 28-day deadline approaches an end without a deal.
"We made progress and we are on the way to forming a government, but I need additional time for it to be stable and to reach agreements on important issues that will help us meet all the challenges facing Israel," Prime Minister Netanyahu told President Rivlin in a meeting.
The extension gives Netanyahu, who won a fourth term in office in Israel’s latest elections mid-March, until May 6 to form a government before the legal 42-day maximum period runs out.
After this point, President Rivlin may give the responsibility to election runner-up Isaac Herzog, whose left-wing Zionist Union won 24 out of a total 120 seats in the Israeli parliament, Knesset, six behind Netanyahu’s Likud party.
"The people of Israel are yearning for the establishment of a government that is capable of making tough decisions… I hope that in the coming days you will succeed in establishing a stable government for the state of Israel,” Rivlin told Netanyahu during the meeting.
Prime Minister Netanyahu needs at least 61 seats to secure a majority in the Knesset, and has been reaching out to fellow right-wing parties to forge an alliance. Overall, right-wing parties took 67 seats while the centre-left and Arab parties took a total of 53.
However, disunity among right-wing parties is proving to make Netanyahu’s job difficult, leading to speculation that he may reach out to election runner-up Isaac Herzog from the left-wing Zionist Union.
Prior to the elections, Netanyahu ruled out a coalition with the Zionist Union, which was established in December 2014 when Herzog’s Labour Party merged with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah party.
Nonetheless, Likud party members signed a petition urging Netanyahu to steer Likud away from uniting with the left-wing bloc and ensure that far-right party Jewish Home becomes a partner in the coalition after Likud member and Interior Minister Gilad Erdan suggested divisions among right-wing parties may force Likud to turn to their left-wing rivals.
Even then, Likud and Zionist Union would not have enough seats to form a government, with right-wing party leaders including Yisrael Beitenu’s Avigdor Lieberman threatening to not to cooperate with any government that involves the left.
Zionist Union has also said it would reject an offer to join a coalition if approached by Likud, saying it prefers to lead the opposition in the country.
If a new government is not formed by the deadline and the responsibility of forming the coalition is given to Herzog, he may have no choice but reach out to Netanyahu’s Likud to form a coalition, which would be the likeliest possibility considering that Zionist Union rejected forming a coalition with third-placed pro-Arab party Joint List.
However, Likud’s Development of the Negev and Galilee Minister Silvan Shalom reassured on Channel Ten's "Central Headquarters" programme that most ministerial portfolios had been settled and Netanyahu will meet President Rivlin’s deadline.
Israel’s Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon, dubbed by Israeli media as a possible “kingmaker” ahead of the elections, reportedly boycotted talks with Likud after Prime Minister Netanyahu gave control of the Knesset Finance Committee to Moshe Gafni, the head of the United Torah Judaism party.
Kahlon, who is seeking Kulanu control of Israel’s Finance Ministry, also demanded his party be given the Knesset Finance Committee as a prerequisite to his cooperation with the new government.
Former Likud member Moshe Kahlon, who broke off to found his new fifth-placed Kulanu Party, is also seeking entry for fourth-placed centrist party Yesh Atid to Netanyahu’s coalition.
With 11 and 10 seats respectively, Yesh Atid and Kulanu have a combined 21 seats, and can therefore add considerable leverage to any coalition.