After Israeli elections, Netanyahu starts building ‘indictment-proof’ coalition

JERUSALEM — As negotiations on the formation of a new Israeli government got underway Monday, almost a week after parliamentary elections, analysts said one issue is foremost in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mind: building an indictment-proof coalition.

Israel’s president, Rivlin Reuven, began consulting Monday morning with the heads of the country’s various political parties on whom they want to head the new government, a process that was live-streamed for the first time.

There is little doubt that Netanyahu will be able to form a coalition, probably one made up of his own ruling Likud party and his traditional partners of ultra-Orthodox and right-wing parties, giving him a 65-seat majority in Israel’s Knesset, or parliament.


But Netanyahu will be looking to form a bloc that will stand by him if expected indictments in three corruption cases against him proceed — or that will even agree to pass legislation granting him immunity from prosecution.

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To do that, he must balance demands from emboldened ultra-Orthodox, secular, and far-right parties jostling for guarantees of specific legislation and ministries, with his legal woes leaving him particularly beholden to the whims of coalition partners.

Adding to the complications are demands for Israel to annex areas in the occupied West Bank. Such a move could clash with Netanyahu’s desire to appease the Trump administration as it prepares to roll out a peace plan, expected by later this spring or early summer.

‘‘It’s not exactly his first rodeo,’’ said Gadi Wolfsfeld, a professor of political science at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, of Netanyahu’s negotiating skills. But this time, he noted, the prime minister has one overriding aim.

‘‘Immunity is his number-one priority,’’ Wolfsfeld said. He added that Netanyahu is likely to want more from his coalition partners than assurances that they will stick with his government even if he is indicted; he may also seek an agreement to pass measures that could shield a sitting prime minister from prosecution.


Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, has said he intends to indict Netanyahu on charges including bribery and breach of trust, pending a hearing in which Netanyahu can present his defense.

‘‘The difficult thing for him is some of the legislation he’ll have to promise in return,’’ Wolfsfeld said.

Such pledges could include neutering the Supreme Court and annexing parts of the West Bank, he said. Netanyahu already made a pre-election promise to apply Israeli sovereignty to settlements there, a step considered illegal by most of the international community.

After meeting with the heads of smaller parties on Tuesday, Rivlin will authorize the candidate with the most support to form a government within 28 days. Final election results are scheduled to be released Wednesday, with possible adjustments following complaints of irregularities.

The current tally from the Central Elections Committee gives Likud 36 seats and its main rival, the Blue and White party, 35. Becoming prime minister, however, involves garnering at least a 61-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset, necessitating support from other parties.


The already slim chance of a unity government between Likud and Blue and White faded Monday as Blue and White party leaders ruled it out, leaving Netanyahu with no clear path to a coalition except one that includes the far right and ultra-Orthodox.

Washington Post