Herzog grants Netanyahu 10 more days to form a coalition, adds a warning

President Isaac Herzog on Friday granted Likud leader and Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu 10 additional days to finish forming a government, while indicating concern that the coalition Netanyahu is assembling — set to be the most right-wing in Israeli history — could potentially damage Israel’s democratic checks and balances, breach the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and alienate Jews overseas.

The presumed incoming prime minister formally asked Herzog for the maximal extension of two weeks on Thursday, saying that the complexity of cobbling together his coalition required extra time, but Herzog gave him only 10 days.

Netanyahu’s 28-day mandate to assemble a government was set to expire at midnight on Sunday night, and he will now have until December 21 to form a government. Herzog did not specify why he chose not to grant Netanyahu the maximum 14-day extension.

“These are complex times for Israeli society as differences over core issues threaten to stoke violence and blind hatred,” the president said in a letter addressed to Netanyahu.

Therefore, Herzog told Netanyahu to form a government that “must work for the entire public in Israel.” With the incoming coalition determined to constrain or even neuter the power of the High Court of Justice to block legislation and government decisions it deems contradict Israel’s quasi-constitutional basic laws, via a so-called “override clause,” Herzog added that “the coalition being formed must maintain a respectful and responsible dialogue between the authorities—executive, legislature, and judiciary.”

It must also “guarantee the State of Israel’s character in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, and must preserve the powerful bond with the Jewish Diaspora,” the president stressed, amid calls by prominent figures in the incoming government to, among other radical moves , change Israeli immigration and other laws to the detriment of non-Orthodox Jews, elevate Jewish religious law in the governance of the country, roll back LGBTQ rights, and expel “disloyal” Arab citizens.

With the contours of his alliance essentially known even before the November 1 vote, Netanyahu had sought to put together a governing coalition within days. Instead, he has found himself mired in squabbles with the far-right and religious parties that make up his bloc of supporters in the Knesset. Nevertheless, Netanyahu is widely expected to ultimately resolve remaining differences with his allies, secure Knesset approval for his new coalition, and take office in the coming weeks.

Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu seen after coalition talks with Shas chairman MK Aryeh Deri and Religious Zionism party head MK Bezalel Smotrich outside a hotel in Jerusalem, December 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In his letter to Herzog on Thursday, Netanyahu noted his Likud party had signed tentative deals with all the parties expected to join his coalition, but issues remained regarding the distribution of ministerial and Knesset committee assignments.

Overnight Wednesday-Thursday, Likud reached an agreement with Shas, completing the last of such deals with Netanyahu’s coalition partners.

However, like the agreements Likud has signed with its other coalition partners United Torah Judaism, Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit and Noam, the agreement with Shas was only an interim deal and all of the parties are still negotiating terms of their final coalition agreements so the next government can be sworn in.

Netanyahu is now expected to attempt a complicated legislative blitz before his government is sworn in, to enable the myriad agreements he has made to be honored — such as allowing the appointment of Shas leader Aryeh Deri, who was convicted of tax offenses earlier this year, as a minister.

Earlier Friday, outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid slammed the presumed incoming government, calling it “insane” and its leader, Netanyahu, “weak,” claiming the Likud leader was allowing extremists to extort him and create “a government unable to govern.”

Netanyahu and the right-religious bloc he leads won 64 of the 120 Knesset seats in general elections last month.

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