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Netanyahu Readies for Fifth Term As Israeli PM

Netanyahu Readies for Fifth Term As Israeli PM

Wednesday, 17 April, 2019 - 13:00
Photo: AFP
Tel Aviv- Asharq Al-Awsat
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin formally nominated on Wednesday Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new government, giving him the nod for a fifth term as prime minister.

He now has 42 days to form a cabinet.

The move was widely expected after Netanyahu's Likud party and its right-wing allies captured a majority of seats in parliamentary elections last week.

In a joint appearance after the two leaders signed and presented the official nomination, Rivlin called on Netanyahu to "heal the wounds and rifts" laid bare in Israeli society by the bruising election campaign.

Netanyahu said he was "moved" to accept his fifth nomination as prime minister "as though it's the first time, and in a certain way, even more than the first time."

He said he would "do everything to earn the trust that the citizens of Israel have bestowed on me."

In a post-election ritual, Rivlin hosted consultations with party leaders this week to hear their recommendations for who should serve as the next prime minister.

Netanyahu received the support of 65 of 120 parliament members to remain prime minister.

The results from the April 9 election put Netanyahu on course to become Israel's longest-serving prime minister later this year, surpassing founding father David Ben-Gurion, but numerous risks lie ahead.

The 69-year-old's first task will be to reconcile divergent demands from his likely coalition partners.

Netanyahu's outgoing government was seen as the most right-wing in Israel's history, and the next is expected to be similar if not further to the right.

The coming months are also expected to see the unveiling of US President Donald Trump's long-awaited plan for Palestinian-Israeli peace.

Trump has shown no sign so far that he would be willing to make significant demands of his close ally Netanyahu in connection with his plan, though even minor concessions to the Palestinians could lead to criticism from far-right coalition partners.

But the biggest danger hanging over Netanyahu is his potential indictment on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.

The attorney general has announced his intention to indict Netanyahu pending an upcoming hearing. He would be the first sitting prime minister to be indicted.

Many analysts said one of Netanyahu's main motivations in moving toward early elections last week was to be able to confront the charges with a fresh electoral mandate behind him.

In a speech on Tuesday night, Netanyahu pledged to be "everyone's prime minister," but also took shots at journalists reporting on whether he will appoint an ally as justice minister who will seek changes to the supreme court long sought by the right.

There has been speculation over whether that could backfire and result in judges taking a harsher view of Netanyahu's alleged corruption.

"The citizens of Israel gave us full, clear-cut, and unequivocal confidence," Netanyahu said. "And these commentators threaten us with a personal price," he added, referring to speculation over a potential prison sentence.

"That's what they call democracy and the rule of law. But every time, you give them a lesson in democracy at the ballot box."

The final election results show Netanyahu's Likud with 35 seats, the same number won by his main opponents from the centrist Blue and White alliance led by ex-military chief Benny Gantz.

But Gantz was left with no ability to form a coalition, with only 45 members of parliament backing him as next premier in consultations with Rivlin.

The election was seen in many ways as a referendum on Netanyahu, who has been prime minister for a total of more than 13 years.

He has built a reputation as guarantor of Israel's security and economic growth, but his divisive right-wing populism and alleged corruption have also led to calls for change.

Netanyahu highlighted his relationship with Trump throughout the campaign -- and especially the US president's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital -- as part of his argument that he remains Israel's essential statesman.

In the coming coalition negotiations, many analysts expect Netanyahu to seek demands from partners that they would remain in the government after he is indicted.

Another major stumbling block will be a contentious bill that would seek to force ultra-Orthodox religious students to serve in the military like their secular counterparts.

Ultra-Orthodox parties, which will control 16 seats in the next coalition, plan to resist the change, but former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman is conditioning his inclusion in the government on the law being passed.

Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party's five seats will be crucial to Netanyahu's majority.

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