Two Days to Deadline, Neither Netanyahu nor Rival Bloc Are Able to Form Coalition

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett, last week
Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett, last weekCredit: Ofer Vaknin
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government expires at midnight on Tuesday, but so far, neither his bloc nor the opposing one is capable of doing so.

“We’re skeptical about whether it’s possible to finalize a coalition by that time,” said a source in Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, which would be part of the government no matter which bloc formed it.

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Netanyahu is still unable to persuade Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionism party, to be part of a government supported by the United Arab List. Nor has he been able to find defectors from Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party to join him.

Smotrich told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday that he would do anything in his power to prevent the forming of a government supported by the United Arab List.   

"it's very unfortunate that Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has repeatedly said that he wouldn't form a coalition with those terror supporters, is tirelessly working to put together such a government," Smotrich later said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, last monthCredit: Yonatan Zindel / Flash 90

Moreover, Religious Zionism issued a statement Monday, saying that "There hasn’t been and there won't be a change in the Religious Zionism's stance when it comes to relying on those who support terrorists negating the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state."

"Those who think to form such a government that would jeopardize the Jewish state will forever be held accountable," the statement added.

Meanwhile, negotiations among the rival bloc have been proceeding slowly. Bennett has said he wants to reach an agreement in principle with the pro-change bloc on forming a government by Tuesday. But so far, the sides are far from any agreement.

Yamina said disputes have arisen with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party over the division of portfolios, because Bennett’s party insists on getting what it terms the “ideological” ministries – justice, interior, religious services and education. But Yesh Atid, Labor and Meretz all vehemently rejected this, saying the only obstacle is currently Bennett himself.

“Bennett is dancing at both weddings,” a senior member of the pro-change bloc said. “He’s trying to extort achievements both from us and from Netanyahu and will decide at the end where he’s going."

Religious Zionism faction head Bezalel Smotrich, last weekCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

“If Bennett ultimately decides that he’s going with a government of change, there won’t be any problems over the distribution of portfolios,” he added. “We’ll agree to compromise. It’s possible to rotate some of the portfolios, and it’s also possible to compensate us with the chairmanship of Knesset committees in exchange for the ideological portfolios.”

On Sunday, it emerged that Bennett and Netanyahu met last Thursday without informing the media. One option that Netanyahu and his bloc are now considering is that once his own mandate expires, all the parties in the bloc will recommend that the president ask Bennett to try to form a government. That would prevent the possibility of Lapid getting the nod.

Such a move would have two purposes. First, it would prevent Yesh Atid from gaining the chairmanship of the Knesset’s arrangements committee, thereby preventing the party from blocking legislation Netanyahu favors, such as a bill on direct elections of a prime minister. Second, it would allow Bennett to continue negotiating with Netanyahu over the establishment of a rightist government while also continuing his negotiations with Lapid.

But reports of this meeting have deepened the pro-change bloc’s suspicions of Yamina.

Yesh Atid “needs to get the mandate to prevent the establishment of a rightist government,” a source close to Lapid said. “The problem is that Bennett still hasn’t decided. We’re waiting for his decision.

“There are no real disagreements in the negotiations,” he added. “If Bennett decided he’s with us, it would be possible to present a government within 24 hours.”

Sunday afternoon, rumors spread that Bennett and Netanyahu had agreed on a rotation government in which Bennett would be prime minister first. But Bennett’s associates denied this.

“Netanyahu’s problem has never been Bennett,” a Yamina source said. “We’ve made it clear that we’d join a government he heads. Netanyahu simply doesn’t have a coalition at the moment.”

Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz flatly rejected the idea of forming his own rotation government with Netanyahu on Sunday. “Even if they ask us hundreds of times, the answer is very clear – the door has been slammed on Netanyahu completely,” he said at a meeting of his party’s lawmakers. “I am committed solely to the pro-change bloc.”

But other members of the bloc said they never thought Netanyahu’s offer was serious, deeming it mere spin on Gantz’s part to bolster his demand for the defense portfolio in any government formed by Lapid.