So his 28 days have elapsed, and Prime Minister Netanyahu failed to mobilize 61 Knesset members to form a government. Is there a chance that the anti-Bibi bloc can succeed where Bibi failed?
Yes. But only a chance, not a certainty. The baton has now passed to Yair Lapid, leader of the second-largest party in the Knesset. Lapid was recommended by 56 Knesset members, only five short of a majority.
At first glance, this looks promising. Surely Lapid can find five more MKs somewhere?
The margin could come from the right-wing party Yamina, led by Naftali Bennett, which won seven seats. But Bennett also wants to be Prime Minister, so the negotiations are projected to involve some formula for rotation as PM between Lapid and Bennett.
A Prime Minister whose party holds only seven seats? Is this the measure of how bizarre Israeli politics has become? But is it any more bizarre than the prospect of a fifth election within two and a half years?
Even if Lapid and Bennett work out this game of musical chairs, their coalition would be awesomely improbable. It would have to include two parties on the left, two in the center, three on the right, and the support of one of the two Arab parties (at least from the outside).
In theory Lapid could turn to the ultra-Orthodox/haredi parties, who have 16 seats. But Lapid's rise in Israeli politics, and his party's platform, are attached to an appeal to the secular majority in Israel who resent the haredim (in particular their avoidance of military service). Lapid sitting with the rabbis of United Torah Jewry is even harder to imagine than Bennett leading a government with Arab support.
Actually today's column was going to be on a different subject, until events on the ground intervened. But for now we return to a period of negotiation behind the scenes with only occasional wisps of smoke emerging as indications of feverish activity. Lapid now has his 28 days, so we'll have to talk about something else in the interim.