JERUSALEM – When nearly a week of negotiations began on Monday for the formation of a new Israeli government After the parliamentary elections, analysts said a topic was to be seen in the eyes of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: the establishment of an indictment-based coalition.
Israeli President Rivlin Reuven began on Monday morning to consult with the various political parties in the country to which they intend to lead the new government, a process that was broadcast live for the first time.
There is no doubt that Netanyahu will be able to form a coalition, most likely one made up of his own ruling Likud party and its traditional partners of ultra-orthodox and right-wing parties and a majority of 65 seats in Israel gives Knesset or Parliament.
But Netanyahu will try to form a bloc to assist him when the expected charges in three corruption cases against him – or even pass a law granting him immunity from prosecution.
In order to do so, he must balance the demands of encouraged ultra-orthodox, secular and extreme right-wing parties fighting for guarantees of specific laws and ministries, with his legal problems making him particularly attached to the whims of coalition partners.
The complications are that Israel is to annex areas in the occupied West Bank. Such a move could collide with Netanyahu's desire to reassure the Trump government as it prepares to draw up a peace plan expected in late spring or early summer.
"It's not exactly his first rodeo," said Gadi Wolfsfeld, professor of political science at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, about the negotiating skills of Netanyahu. But this time around, the Prime Minister has an overarching goal.
"Immunity is its number one priority," said Wolfsfeld. He added that Netanyahu will probably demand more from his coalition partners than the assurance that they will stay with his government, even if he is charged with; He could also seek an agreement on the adoption of measures that could protect a seated prime minister from prosecution.
Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has announced that Netanyahu will face charges of indictment, including bribery and breach of trust, to present his defense.
"The difficult thing for him is that he has to give some of the laws that he has to promise in return," said Wolfsfeld.
Such promises could include the neutralization of the Supreme Court and the annexation of parts of the West Bank, he said. Netanyahu had already promised to apply Israeli sovereignty to the settlements there before the elections, a move that is considered illegal by the majority of the international community.
Following a meeting with the heads of the smaller parties on Tuesday, Rivlin will authorize the candidate with the largest government formation support within 28 days. The final election results will be published on Wednesday, possibly with adjustments due to complaints about irregularities.
The current Central Election Committee report gives Likud 36 seats and its main opponent, the Blue and White, 35th Prime Minister. However, the 120 seats in the Knesset require at least a majority of 61 seats, which requires support from other parties ,
The low chance of a unity government between Likud and Blue and White faded on Monday when the leaders of the Blue and White Party ruled it out, and Netanyahu had no clear path to a coalition other than a far-right and ultra-orthodox.
Part of the United Right's campaign platform, a far-right group that includes the extremist Jewish Power, was that it was up to the government to block any concessions that could go along with President Trump's peace plan.
"The relationship between Netanyahu and Trump is strong enough that if Trump wants to promote a peace plan, Netanyahu will be obliged to do so," said Gil Hoffman, main political correspondent for the Jerusalem Post. He added, however, that Netanyahu's right-wing coalition would likely reject no "process" – just "an actual move".
Another potential impairment is Avigdor Liberman, who has quit Netanyahu's last government over the Prime Minister's Gaza policy. Liberman's party, Yisrael Beytenu, has five seats, and it is widely expected that in his old post as defense minister, he demands reinstatement with a stronger political influence in return for his support. At the same time, his violent secularism will lead to friction with ultra-orthodox parties in a coalition.
The biggest break line "will relate to issues of religion and state," Hoffman said.
Liberman's base includes Russian immigrants, many of whom do not recognize ultra-Orthodox Jews as Jews. Liberman campaigned for re-election on a platform to weaken the social influence of the ultra-Orthodox.
On Monday night, he said he would support Netanyahu, but he would not drop his call for members of the ultra-Orthodox community to be called to the Israeli military, a problem that brought down the last government.
The Haredim – the ultra-orthodox religious parties whose support Netanyahu requires – have increased their seating in the Knesset from 13 to 15 and possibly with the latest adjustments to 16.
"They will definitely have more power than they had the last time," said Israel Cohen, a commentator on ultra-orthodox radio station Kol Barama. "It will be interesting to see how Netanyahu will create the Haredim on the one hand and Liberman on the other."
The ultra-Orthodox will campaign for ministries and increase their budget, said Tzipy Yarom, a reporter for the ultra-orthodox Mishpacha magazine. "The fact that we have more power makes us very hopeful."