Israeli President Reuven Rivlin invites opposition leader Yair Lapid to form a new government — a step that could lead to the end of the lengthy rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel’s president has tapped opposition leader Yair Lapid to form a new government — a step that could lead to the end of the lengthy rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
President Reuven Rivlin announced his decision on live TV on Wednesday, a day after Netanyahu failed to cobble together a governing coalition by a midnight deadline.
"I have spoken to Yair Lapid and told him I am giving him the (28-day) mandate," Rivlin said, adding that it was clear that the centrist former TV anchor "has the best chance to form a government."
Rivlin spent the day consulting with all of the parties elected to Israel’s parliament.
Confidence of Knesset
Rivlin said that based on the recommendations, “it is clear that Knesset member Yair Lapid has a chance to form a government that will earn the confidence of the Knesset, even if the difficulties are many.”
Lapid, whose late father was a Cabinet minister and who himself is a veteran journalist and politician, now has four weeks to reach a deal with potential partners.
While Lapid faces a difficult task, he now has the chance to make history by ending the reign of Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
Netanyahu's political future was thrown into question when he failed to assemble a ruling coalition in the four weeks allotted to him.
That raised the possibility that his 12-year run as prime minister — the longest in Israeli history — could soon come to an end.
It follows more than two years of political paralysis.
“It looks like, perhaps within a few days or a few weeks, we might have a functioning coalition that will not include Mr. Netanyahu. This will be a groundbreaking change," said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, an independent think tank.
He acknowledged, however, that “a fifth consecutive election is still, unfortunately, a real possibility.”
Rivlin met with the two main candidates for forming a government — opposition leader Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, a former Netanyahu ally.
Lapid, who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party, received the backing of four smaller parties from across the political spectrum, while Bennett, head of the small nationalist and religious Yamina party, recommended himself to form the next government.
Netanyahu's fall from grace
Elections held on March 23 ended in deadlock for the fourth consecutive time in the past two years.
Despite repeated meetings with many of his rivals and unprecedented outreach to the leader of a small Arab party, Netanyahu was unable to close a deal.
Rivlin gave Netanyahu the first chance to form a coalition after 52 members of parliament endorsed him as prime minister last month.
That was short of a majority, but the highest number for any party leader.
Netanyahu has become a divisive figure in Israeli politics, with the last four elections all seen as a referendum on his rule. He has been desperate to remain in office while he stands trial, using his position to lash out at prosecutors and seek possible immunity from prosecution.
Netanyahu has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and bribery in a series of scandals.
The trial has moved into the witness phase, with embarrassing testimony accusing him of trading favours with a powerful media mogul.
Netanyahu denies the charges, accusing law enforcement, the judiciary and the media of waging a “witch hunt” against him.