Israel Election: Bennett Expected to Announce Coalition Deal With Lapid Within Days, Source Says

Ayelet Shaked has yet to give her backing, which would be decisive for effort to form a coalition, source says

Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov
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Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett at a press conference, last year.
Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett at a press conference, last year.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov

LIVE UPDATES: All eyes on Bennett as Netanyahu scrambles to foil gov't

Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett promised Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid that he would inform him on Saturday evening whether he was willing to join a coalition with him, with one high-ranking lawmaker saying that Bennett is expected to announce an agreement had been reached on Sunday or Monday.

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Bennett is expected to give his party an update on the matter in a meeting on Sunday morning. According to the source within the bloc of parties opposed to the continuation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rule, Bennett will likely announce he had reached a so-called rotation deal with Lapid, which would entail one of them taking over the role of prime minister from the other. Lapid and Bennett spoke on the phone on Friday evening and were expected to speak again on Saturday night. 

Lapid and Bennett earlier agreed that the Yamina chairman would give his final answer by the time Shabbat ended on Saturday evening, but as of this article's publication it was not clear whether he had reached a decision. According to one source familiar with the negotiations, Yamina plans to join the coalition, with lawmaker Nir Orbach planning to either join the move or resign from the Knesset rather than voting against the decision.

Bennett, for his part, is waiting to hear from Ayelet Shaked, the former justice minister who is second on Yamina's election slate. Associates of Shaked say efforts to form a coalition consisting only of right-wing parties have not been exhausted and that Netanyahu and New Hope Chairman Gideon Sa'ar may still strike a deal despite the latter's public promises. However, sources in Yamina believe that Shaked does not think that this is possible and is buying time.

Bennett has consulted with several aides and confidants, but had not given Lapid a final answer as of publication time. Members of Lapid's inner circle have said they expected the delay, and negotiators for his Yesh Atid party are trying to complete agreements with Kahol Lavan and New Hope.

Bennett is expected to issue an announcement soon. His party made preparations for this Friday, and Likud feared the Yamina leader was about to declare that he and Lapid had locked in a new government. Sources in Likud say they learned about Bennett's plan when Yamina asked to borrow a speaker's podium from the Knesset. A Likud Facebook post claimed Bennett and Lapid were less than a day away from announcing a new government: "Does anyone still believe that Bennett is not charging into the left?" the post said. "Rightists, wake up. Bennett fled from an agreement with Likud on a right-wing government, and he is running to a left-wing government with Lapid, Meretz, the Labor Party and the Joint List. They plan to announce it within the next 24 hours and to swear in the left-wing government next week."

In addition to Bennett and Shaked, Lapid still needs to finalize coalition agreements with Kahol Lavan and New Hope. The talks with the former are in a very advanced stage, and additional meetings are expected Sunday. The talks with Sa'ar's party only began Thursday, and the assumption in Yesh Atid is that they cannot be completed until Sa'ar knows where Bennett is headed. The talks between Yesh Atid and New Hope are also expected to continue.

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