There's Still a Chance Netanyahu Doesn't End Up as Prime Minister

The average American reader could be forgiven for believing that, with the much ballyhooed Likud victory in the Israeli Knesset election in March, Benjamin Netanyahu had already been reconfirmed as prime minister and all was right in Zion. But the election was only the beginning of the process of government formation. Welcome to the wonderfully democratic world of proportional representation.

In the 66 years since the first Knesset election was held in the modern state of Israel, a single party has never won an outright majority of the 120 seats such that it could govern in its own right. This year was no exception. When the dust settled, the box score read as follows:

Likud – 30 seats

HaMachane haTzioni – 24 seats

United Arab List – 13 seats

Yesh Atid – 11 seats

Kulanu – 10 seats

HaBayit haYehudi – 8 seats

Shas – 7 seats

Yahadut haTorah – 6 seats

Yisrael Beytenu – 6 seats

Meretz – 5 seats

Likud had not scored the “landslide” victory which some pundits claimed; in fact, 30 seats is somewhat anemic for the leading party by historical standards.

The next step was for Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to hold meetings with all the parties which had passed the threshold to receive their recommendations as to who should be the next prime minister. Sixty-seven members of the next Knesset (MKs) voted for Bibi. That led President Rivlin to charge Bibi with forming a governing coalition, and thus begin the horse-trading.

In the last Knesset, a law had been passed limiting the total number of government ministries to 18, with four deputy ministers and no ministers without portfolio (specifically prohibited under the new law). Those 22 plum positions will be awarded to 22 MKs sprinkled among the parties joining the coalition.

After President Rivlin charged Netanyahu with forming the next government, a 28-day clock started ticking within which time the coalition was to be formed. Having the Passover season in the middle of the period slowed the process some; the coalition had not gelled by the end of the period. By law, Netanyahu could (and did) request a two-week extension to hammer out his coalition, and the extension was granted. He now has until May 6 to put it together.

If he fails, President Rivlin will then have the option of naming any MK he thinks can form a coalition to the task.

So a Prime Minister Herzog, the head of HaMachane haTzioni, is -- still -- a possibility.

That prospect ought to concentrate the minds of those on the political “right” in Israel, one would think. It does not appear to have done so yet.

Despite rumors to the contrary, no party has yet signed a coalition agreement. The current state of play, a survey of the Israeli press reveals, is roughly as follows.