Bennett widely expected to announce formation of gov’t with Lapid Sunday

The Israeli political system was on edge Saturday night amid swirling reports that the Yamina party was preparing to announce its backing for the formation of a government that will see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu removes from power.

According to Channel 12 news, Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked, who in recent days had been seen as a key holdout on joining the so-called “change bloc,” has agreed with party leader Naftali Bennett to join a power-sharing government led by Bennett and Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid, who will rotate the premiership between them,

The government would bring together parties from the right (Yamina, Yisrael Beytenue, New Hope), center (Yesh Atid, Blue and White) and left (Labor, Meretz) with support from the Islamist Arab Ra’am party in a unity government that would seek to extract Israel from two years of political chaos, spearhead the country’s recovery from coronavirus and heal societal rifts in a deeply divided nation.

Media reports differed on whether Bennett had made a final decision, or whether he was on the verge of doing so.

Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid holds a press conference in Tel Aviv, on May 6, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)

Channel 12 and Kan news said Bennett was resolved to join with Lapid. It said he would publicly announce the decision on Sunday evening, with Lapid — who is currently mandated by President Reuven Rivlin with forming a government — planning to visit the president on Monday to inform him he had succeeded.

Meanwhile the Ynet news site reported that Bennett had told operatives a decision would be made in the next day or two.

Under the reported deal, Bennett would serve as prime minister for the government’s first two years, with Lapid replacing him for the final two.

According to Channel 12, Shaked had conditioned her support on Netanyahu failing to form a coalition himself. Kan news said Shaked was still hopeful of the possibility of New Hope and its leader Gideon Sa’ar — who has vowed not to partner with the premier — being persuaded to join Yamina and Netanyahu to form a right-wing government, but Bennett believed this was impossible.

Shaked is believed to fear a right-wing backlash from voters who prefer a government headed by the conservative Netanyahu than one backed and eventually headed by the centrist Lapid.

Benjamin Netanyahu attends a ceremony for the victims of the 1948 Altalena incident, at Nachalat Yitzhak cemetery in Tel Aviv on May 26, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Yamina put out a laconic statement Saturday night that it would hold a faction meeting Sunday during which Bennett would update the party’s lawmakers on “the developments in recent days.”

Lapid’s mandate to form a government ends in four days. He has so far reached informal coalition agreements with Yisrael Beytenu, Meretz and Labor, and is hoping to seal deals with Blue and White and New Hope in the next few days.

According to multiple reports, Netanyahu planned to intensify his pressure campaign on Yamina members to refuse to support the emerging coalition. After one party MK announced a few weeks ago he would not back such a government, any more rebels in the party could doom the plan.

Netanyahu has accused the nationalist Bennet of seeking to form a left-wing government due to political ambition and of betraying the right (though Bennett supported Netanyahu’s own efforts to form a government until those failed). The new government is expected to seek to avoid issues of controversy between left and right and focus on economic and social matters.

The change bloc, with six of Yamina’s seven seats, numbers 57 MKs. Ra’am four MKs would hand it a 61-seat majority in the Knesset, allowing a government to be formed.

Channel 13 news reported Saturday that should more rebels emerge in Yamina, the Arab majority Joint List may agree to provide the bloc with a “safety net” to ensure it a Knesset majority. There was no official confirmation of the report.

Dueling protests took place Saturday night outside the homes of Bennett, Shaked and Sa’ar between right-wing activists who oppose the change government and those who back it.

New Hope chair Gideon Sa’ar leads a faction meeting in the Knesset on April 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meanwhile Channel 12 reported that should he be ousted from the Prime Minister’s Office. Netanyahu has no intention of resigning. and planned to lead the opposition, while engaging in ongoing attacks against Yamina and intense efforts to break up the coalition along ideological lines

Following is the emerging makeup of the new government, should it be formed:

Prime Minister — Naftali Bennett (Yamina; rotating with Lapid after two years)

Foreign Minister — Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid)

Defense Minister — Benny Gantz (Blue and White)

Finance Minister — Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu)

Justice Minister — Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope)

Interior Minister — Ayelet Shaked (Yamina)

Transportation Minister — Merav Michaeli (Labor)

Education Minister — Yifat Shasha-Bitton (New Hope)

Public Security Minister — Omer Bar-Lev (Labor)

Health Minister — Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz)

Immigrant Absorption Minister — Pnina Tamano-Shata (Blue and White)

Culture Minister — Chili Tropper (Blue and White)

Communications Minister — Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid)

Religious Affairs Minister — Matan Kahana (Yamina)

Agriculture Minister — Alon Schuster (Blue and White)

Environmental Protection Minister –– Tamar Zandberg (Meretz)

Regional Cooperation Minister — Issawi Frej

Knesset Speaker — Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid)

(Further ministries pending)

If Lapid cannot build a majority by June 2, the Knesset would have 21 days to agree on a prime minister; otherwise, Israel would head to its fifth elections in two-and-a-half years.

Netanyahu on Friday released a video in which he said Bennett first agreed to join a rotational government with him, but later reneged to throw his lot in with what he described as a “left-wing government.”

Netanyahu has been in power since 2009, but has failed to garner enough support or enough partners to put together a new government since elections were called in early 2019, and his political future has been complicated by being indicted in three criminal cases.

Lawmakers in the Knesset plenum on December 9, 2020. (Dani Shem Tov/Knesset Spokesperson)

After three inconclusive elections, Netanyahu finally convinced Blue and White’s Benny Gantz to join im in a power-sharing government in mid 2020. Netanyahu was to have served as prime minister for 18 months before handing over to Gantz in November 2021. However, late last year Likud and Blue and White’s government, dysfunctional since day one, fall apart over Netanyahu’s refusal to pass a two-year budget as had originally been agreed between the sides.

The government’s collapse and Israel’s subsequent fourth election in two years this past march was widely seen as an attempt by Netanyahu to avoid honoring his deal with Gantz and cement his hold on power in the wake of the successful effort against coronavirus and normalization deals with several Arab countries.

Instead, the election ended with the Knesset mired in the same gridlock that followed the past three votes.

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