Bennett, Netanyahu talk coalition options; Yamina chief may recommend self as PM

Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concluded a meeting Friday in which they agreed “on the need to form a stable, functioning government as soon as possible” and discussed possible ways to bring this about “in the political situation that has emerged,” according to a joint statement.

The two agreed to maintain in contact, it added.

Meanwhile, according to an unnamed Yamina source cited by the Haaretz newspaper, Bennett was increasingly unlikely to recommend either Netanyahu or opposition Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to form the next government when he meets with President Reuven Rivlin next week, and is liable to recommend himself.

Bennett will meet Lapid on Saturday night to discuss potential cooperation as well.

Both Netanyahu’s bloc of supporters and the anti-Netanyahu bloc are competing for Yamina’s backing, which is crucial to muster a 61-strong majority in the Knesset. Even with Bennett’s support, both sides are expected to face significant hurdles. Neither side seems able to form a government without at least tacit backing from the Islamist Arab Ra’am party. Ra’am has signaled openness to the possibility, but right-wing parties in both blocs are loath to cooperate with it.

Then-defense minister Naftali Bennett of Yamina, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting of right-wing parties, on March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Following the elections, Bennett has been demanding that he become prime minister in a power-sharing deal with either Lapid or Netanyahu, despite his party only having seven Knesset seats. Netanyahu’s Likud won the most seats in the elections, 30, while Yesh Atid is the second-largest party with 17.

Lapid met Thursday with leaders of the Joint List party, an alliance of predominantly Arab member parties. The Joint List leaders did not commit to giving him their support and reiterated that they will not consider recommending Lapid unless he receives 55 other MKs’ recommendations.

Party leaders will begin meeting with Rivlin on Monday to give their recommendations, and on Wednesday the president is expected to hand over the mandate to form the next government to the candidate he believes is best placed to do so.

Gideon Sa’ar, leader of the right-wing New Hope party which is seeking to replace Netanyahu, is reportedly working to broker an alternate coalition that would see Bennett rotate the premiership with Lapid. However, the idea is said to be hampered by disputes over who should actually be tasked with forming the coalition, with both sides skeptical of the other’s commitment to follow through on the power-sharing agreement.

Gideon Sa’ar, head of the New Hope political party, speaks during a Channel 12 News conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A poll published Wednesday night by Channel 13 news found that 62 percent of those who voted for the anti-Netanyahu bloc want Lapid to step aside and let Bennett be prime minister.

Before the election, both New Hope’s Sa’ar and Bennett said they want to see Netanyahu removed from power, but also vowed not to let Lapid be prime minister.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu publicly called on Yamina and Sa’ar, a former Likud minister who left to start his own party, to put aside their differences and join him in forming a government. Sa’ar, who has vowed to unseat Netanyahu, immediately rejected the offer but Yamina’s response was ambivalent.

Bennett has previously served as a minister under Netanyahu but following the previous elections joined the opposition.

Rivlin is set to begin consultations with the political parties on Monday to hear their recommendation for who should get the job of forming a government. On Wednesday, he is expected to task a candidate with forming a government.

The elections, the fourth in two years, did not break the ongoing political deadlock.

President Reuven Rivlin casts his ballot at a voting station in Jerusalem, during the Knesset Elections, on March 23, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Lapid has met with several fellow faction leaders in recent days as part of coalition-building efforts. He has so far been endorsed by Yisrael Beytenu (7 seats), Labor (7) and Meretz (6) to form the next government — for a total of 37 backers.

Benny Gantz said his Blue and White party (8 seats) would “automatically” back Lapid, provided that support would lift him to a 61-strong majority in the 120-member Knesset.

Netanyahu can expect the endorsement of Shas (9), United Torah Judaism (7) and Religious Zionism (6) — 52 seats together with Likud’s 30.

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