Sources: Netanyahu May Be Forced to Form Coalition With Lapid and Bennett

Senior Habayit Hayehudi officials hint second meeting between PM and Bennett points to a thawing in their relationship, but no change in Bennett's stance on Lapid; Likud officials believe Netanyahu may have to give up on ultra-Orthodox.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Although the meeting between Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday went well, the Habayit Hayehudi leader is planning to stick to his alliance with Yair Lapid, senior members of Bennett's party have said.

"Our commitment to Lapid continues even after the meeting with the prime minister," said a senior source in Habayit Hayehudi. "From this perspective, there has been no change."

If Bennett doesn't agree to join Netanyahu, who is currently trying to cobble together a right wing-Haredi coalition, the alliance between Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi is likely to force Netanyahu to give in to Lapid's demand and form a government coalition without the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Likud officials also increasingly believe that Netanyahu has realized that he will not be able to form a right-wing / ultra-Orthodox government, and is striving now to form a coalition agreement over the next few days with Lapid's Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi.

On Sunday, the rabbis of Tkuma, the ultra-Orthodox Zionist faction that is led by Rabbi Dov Lior within Habayit Hayehudi, published a letter in support of Bennett and his alliance with Lapid.

Habayit Hayehudi party members were careful not to reveal any details about what occurred during the meeting held in Netanyahu's office on Sunday, during parts of which Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman was present. The meeting went on for two and a half hours and at its conclusion was said to have been "good and practical." Lieberman himself also stated that "the meeting went well."

These responses from participants are likely to signify a turnaround in the relationship between Bennett and Netanyahu, after an official Likud announcement termed their previous meeting weeks ago as having been "businesslike." This was the second meeting between Netanyahu and Bennett since the elections and also the second meeting between the two since Bennett concluded his stint as Netanyahu's bureau chief five years ago amid unpleasant murmurs.

Since the elections, the prime minister has displayed a cold and callous demeanor toward Bennett. The congratulatory conversation between the prime minister and Bennett over the latter's electoral accomplishment came almost an entire week after the final election results were announced. Habayit Hayehudi received 12 Knesset seats in January's elections, quadrupling the number of seats it held in the previous Knesset.

Last January, Haaretz revealed that Netanyahu had tagged Bennett as the person responsible for three leaks from his office to the media. Bennett was accused, along with his then-bureau chief, now a Habayit Hayehudi lawmaker, MK Ayelet Shaked, of leaking information to Channel 10 about Netanyahu’s foreign travels, and to Yedioth Aharonot about Netanyahu’s campaign contributor. He was also accused of leaking information to the state comptroller and police that led to a probe over money allegedly given to Netanyahu by ultra-Orthodox businessman Dedi Graucher. In the latter case, the police determined there was no evidence to support the allegation.

Bennett recently firmly denied these accusations against him. In addition, Bennett was forced to deal with his "slip of the tongue" on the eve of the elections when he said during a Channel 10 broadcast that he and Sara Netanyahu were in the same anti-terror training course together. When asked whether he could work together with Netanyahu despite the ill-feelings between them, Bennett said that they could overcome these feelings as theyserved together in the same Israeli army division – the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit.

Asked whether he had also served in the same unit with Sara Netanyahu, Bennett said, “Yes, I was with Sara mainly in a terrorism course." After a few seconds' confusion he elaborated, “There is nothing that 15 Knesset seats won’t cure. We should stop dwelling on gossip. Netanyahu and I will work very well together.”

On Saturday, President Peres granted Netanyahu two more weeks to form Israel's next government, after the prime minister failed to negotiate a parliamentary majority in the 28-day timeframe he was given after winning the January election. Netanyahu hinted to Peres on Saturday that the blame behind the delay lies with Lapid, and Bennett's alliance, and the fact that it seems they will not agree to join a government that includes ultra-Orthodox parties.

On Sunday afternoon, Netanyahu met with the Shas leadership, outgoing Housing Minister Ariel Atias, outgoing Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Aryeh Deri – the first face-to-face meeting with the Shas triumvirate since the election. According to Shas officials, Netanyahu accused Habayit Hayehudi chairman MK Naftali Bennett of creating a political entanglement that will not allow Shas to enter to coalition. However, Shas officials said they had the impression that Netanyahu’s efforts in the coming days would focus on Labor chairwoman MK Shelly Yacimovich rather than on splitting up the alliance between Bennett and the Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid.

“Netanyahu is willing to do a lot to persuade Yacimovich to come in,” a Shas official said.

A statement by a senior Shas minister on Sunday indicates that Israel's ultra-Orthodox parties are moving closer to joining the opposition, in light of the crisis in ties with Habayit Hayehudi.

“We are going to walk all over the settlements, we’re not afraid. We’ll vote to evacuate outposts, we’ll vote to freeze construction, we’ll support diplomatic initiatives, we’ll vote to cut funding to the settlements,” the senior Shas official told Haaretz on Sunday.

Yair Lapid, left, and Naftali Bennett. Credit: Emil Salman
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, center left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the swearing-in ceremony of the 19th Knesset in Jerusalem, Feb. 5, 2013.Credit: Emil Salman
Naftali Bennett. Netanyahu is said to be warming to him.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Click the alert icon to follow topics:



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN


Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

The projected rise in sea level on a beach in Haifa over the next 30 years.

Facing Rapid Rise in Sea Levels, Israel Could Lose Large Parts of Its Coastline by 2050

Prime Minister Yair Lapid, this month.

Lapid to Haaretz: ‘I Have Learned to Respect the Left’

“Dubi,” whose full name is secret in keeping with instructions from the Mossad.

The Mossad’s Fateful 48 Hours Before the Yom Kippur War

Tal Dilian.

As Israel Reins in Its Cyberarms Industry, an Ex-intel Officer Is Building a New Empire

Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III and a British synagogue.

How the Queen’s Death Changes British Jewry’s Most Distinctive Prayer