Naftali Bennett, the leader of the right-wing Yamina party, said Wednesday that he will not join a government led by Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.
In an interview with Kan, Israel's public broadcaster, Bennett said that "we have no problem with Lapid joining the coalition but ultimately we will not be part of a left-wing government."
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Bennett further said that "Netanyahu can only be replaced with someone from the right, since the majority of the country is right-wing. It doesn't make sense for there to be a prime minister from the left. The choice at the ballot box in the end will be between Netanyahu or me."
Bennett's statement was aimed mainly at reassuring his voters, some of whom could defect to another right-wing party should he appear at all willing to join a left-wing government, but also to entice some votes from Likud.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's campaign has consistently ignored Bennett as well as Gideon Sa'ar's New Hope party, and has treated only Lapid as a real threat. Netanyahu knows that there are Yamina and New Hope voters who fear a left-wing government led by Lapid, and who may defect to Likud if they perceive the election to be a choice not between Netanyahu and his opponents, but between a right-wing or left-wing government.
Bennett's statement may alleviate this concern for right-wing voters and therefore reduce the strength of Netanyahu's argument, as well as strengthen Yamina's power to determine the composition of the next government and prime minister.
According to an average of recent election polls, Bennett's Yamina party is projected to receive 11.5 seats in the March 23 vote. Although Bennett has been very critical of Netanyahu's management of the coronavirus pandemic, he has not stated whether he will sit in a government with Netanyahu.
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Netanyahu's Likud, the ultra-orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, and the far-right Religious Zionism alliance, are expected to receive 49 seats together.
All the other parties running in the election have stated that they would not join a Netanyahu-led government. The anti-Netanyahu bloc, including Yesh Atid, New Hope, the Joint List, Yisrael Beiteinu, Labor, Kahol Lavan and Meretz is projected to receive receive 62.5 seats.
Meanwhile, in a recording aired on Monday morning, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid called Religious Zionism members, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, supporters of terrorism. In a zoom conversation with activists in his party earlier this week, Lapid said that “Sa'ar and Bennett are unequivocally right-wing, but in the end we will have to try to find common ground. There are those I will not talk to, particularly Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, because they are simply supporters of terrorism."