Bennett, Lapid Holding Intensive Coalition Talks in Last-ditch Effort to Block Netanyahu

Israel election results ■ Yamina's Naftali Bennett is trying to diminish the appearance of his cooperation with left-wing parties in a potential joint government

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Naftali Bennett arriving to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Friday.
Naftali Bennett arriving to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Friday.Credit: Emil Salman
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Yamina’s Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid have been holding intensive talks over the past two days in an effort to form a joint government, brokered by New Hope lawmaker and former Likud member Zeev Elkin.

Had these discussions begun earlier, Elkin told President Reuven Rivlin, the anti-Netanyahu bloc may have come to an agreement on a candidate for prime minister by Monday, when recommendations to the president were given.

LISTEN: On trial and struggling to cobble a coalition, bankrupt Bibi is teetering on the brink

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Rivlin will announce his decision on Tuesday at 12:00 P.M. in a press conference. The president did not invite any lawmakers to receive the mandate, and is set to give a speech instead.

Bennett is set to give a statement to the press on Tuesday at 2:00 P.M.

After party consultations with President Rivlin finished Monday, Lapid publicly commented saying, “I suggested to Bennett that we establish a unity government together and that he be the first in the rotation [as prime minister]. That’s what the country needs now.” 

According to those involved in the talks, Bennett is trying to diminish the appearance of his cooperation with left-wing parties in a potential joint government via a series of mechanisms that would give the cabinet’s right-wing branch considerable independence.

He wants the right-wing ministers in the government to hold more “ideological” portfolios including the justice, interior and public security ministries. He also wants  the hawkish elements of the coalition to have a level of autonomy, even though they are fewer in number than the members of the left-wing parties.

For now Rivlin is refusing to participate in these talks, declining Elkin’s proposal that he mediate between Lapid and Bennett. Rivlin also refused his request to delay granting a mandate to form a new government to Wednesday, to give the two party leaders time to work out further details. The president did say that if such a request were to come from Lapid or Bennett, he would consider it.

The parties of the anti-Netanyahu bloc are nervous about the situation as Rivlin has indicated that he would be hard pressed to withold the mandate from Netanyahu despite his being on trial, since he has a significantly larger number of recommendations than either Lapid or Bennett. If Netanyahu gets the mandate first, he will conduct an intensive 28-day campaign to wear down Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, Yamina, and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu in an effort to recruit “deserters.”

Lapid was quick to appeal to members of the anti-Netanyahu bloc and potential defectors on Monday. “I call on all the parties that promised Israeli citizens change: Netanyahu will do everything in his power to divide us. He will seek deserters, he will seek to dismantle parties. Don’t let him. He has no majority. He’s a hostage of the extremists,” Lapid said.

Bennett and Lapid are trying to come to an agreement as quickly as possible. It isn’t clear whether they can reach an accord before the mandate is assigned. If they can't, they will have to wait tensely for Netanyahu to fail to form a government, and hope that Rivlin gives them a chance to form one rather than move for a fifth election.

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