After sticking with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu through four inconclusive elections, the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties have told the incumbent prime minister that they will not follow him to another round of voting, Israeli television reported Wednesday.
Since being tasked Tuesday with putting together a government following the March 23 elections, Netanyahu has met with the leaders of Shas and United Torah Judaism. Both parties had endorsed Netanyahu, who received more recommendations to assemble a coalition than his rivals but lacks a clear path to securing a ruling majority.
Despite Shas and UTJ’s public expressions of support, television reports said they told Netanyahu that they will not go with him to fifth elections.
The Haredi parties noted Yamina chief Naftali Bennett’s potential options for forming a government and predicted he would not forgo the opportunity to be prime minister, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
A separate report on Channel 12 news said the ultra-Orthodox parties asked Netanyahu to do everything to prevent the formation of a government that would see Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid switch off as prime minister. Lapid and the Haredi parties have long been at loggerheads over the Yesh Atid chief’s support for introducing core curriculum studies into ultra-Orthodox schools and ending blanket exemptions to mandatory military service for seminary students.
It was not specified if the warnings were made by both Shas and UTJ, which is made up of the Agudath Israel and Degal HaTorah factions.
Besides Shas and UTJ, Netanyahu also enjoys the backing of the far-right Religious Zionism party. Including Likud, his right-wing religious bloc has 52 seats, short of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Thursday with Bennett, who has said he is open to talks with Likud and called for a right-wing government, but hasn’t committed to backing the Likud leader. Even with Yamina’s support, Netanyahu’s bloc would be two seats short of a majority, with limited options for putting together a government.
In consultations with President Reuven Rivlin on which lawmaker should get first crack at forming a government, Yamina recommended Bennett, the only party to do so. Lapid got 45 endorsements, with the New Hope, Joint List and Ra’am parties not recommending any candidate.
While Lapid got significantly more endorsements than Bennett and his party has 17 seats to Yamina’s seven, he revealed Tuesday that he offered Bennett to serve as prime minister first in a rotation government. In apparent response to Lapid, Bennett said he would not head a left-wing coalition or abandon his principles.
New Hope, which campaigned on replacing Netanyahu as prime minister, has also voiced support for a power-sharing deal between Bennett and Lapid.
According to Channel 12 news, New Hope decided not to endorse Lapid after being warned by Yamina that if it did so, Bennett’s party would back Netanyahu, giving the Likud chief 59 recommendations.
Without the support of New Hope and the predominantly Arab Joint List, which reports indicated may have endorsed Lapid if New Hope did, the Yesh Atid chief trailed Netanyahu in total recommendations, positioning the premier to get the mandate to form a government.
The network said Yamina itself was divided on what government to support and that its solution was to give Netanyahu a chance to form a government before potentially allying with Lapid if he fails.
On Tuesday, Channel 13 news reported that Bennett has told associates he will form a government with Lapid if Netanyahu fails to assemble a ruling majority.
If Netanyahu does not succeed in forming a government, the president can either task a second person with the attempt (for another period of 28 days and a possible additional 14), or send the mandate back to the Knesset, giving the legislature 21 days to agree on a candidate supported by 61 MKs.
If the president appoints a second person and that person also fails to assemble a coalition, the mandate automatically returns to the Knesset for the 21-day period. During that time, any MK is eligible to attempt to form a government.
Rivlin has indicated he may not give the mandate to a second candidate if Netanyahu fails, but rather immediately send it back to the Knesset.
At the end of the 21-day period, if no candidate has been agreed upon by 61 MKs, the new Knesset automatically disbands and the country heads to yet another election, the fifth in under three years.
Neither the pro- nor anti-Netanyahu bloc currently has a clear path to a coalition majority.