Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid’s mandate for forming a government expires in 10 days. He seems unlikely to succeed, and the parties have turned their focus to the 21-day period that will follow if he fails to create a coalition.
In those 21 days, any Knesset member who can gather the signatures of 61 colleagues can form a government. The smart money is still on a fifth election, but all eyes will be on Gideon Sa’ar (who has agreed in principle to a rotation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) and Benny Gantz (who this weekend reiterated his refusal to join a Netanyahu-led government this time).
Lapid hasn’t contacted Naftali Bennett since the Yamina leader ruled out a “change” government. Yesh Atid is waiting for Bennett to signal his intentions. Lapid met with his strategy team Saturday evening, with another meeting scheduled for Sunday. He is expected to decide later Sunday whether to sign an agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu, Kahol Lavan, the Labor Party, Meretz and possibly New Hope, even though this doesn’t give him a majority government. He is weighing how to change Bennett’s mind or to get Sa’ar to join a government supported by all the Arab parties.
Bennett promised several important party activists that after the war he would specify exactly what his intentions were, who he is willing to sit with in a government and who he isn’t willing to sit with. So far, Bennett is hiding behind code words such as “behind closed doors,” not saying directly that he has taken the possibility of a change-bloc government off the table for good. With that, Yamina has officially denied on its Twitter account a report according to which this option may resurface. Bennett is expected to publicly clarify his position in the coming days.
Bennett is holding talks with Netanyahu, who has retracted most of the promises he made Bennett. Some are probably not relevant in any case (Bennett will not be defense minister nor Ayelet Shaked foreign minister, due to the simple fact that no government seems to be in the offing.) Some are still on the table. Right now, the main issue is the guaranteed placement of Yamina MKs in the Likud slate of Knesset candidates.
Late last week the Yamina and Likud negotiating teams met. According to a person involved in these talks, Netanyahu hinges this move on the complete integration of Bennet, Shaked and any other person who is guaranteed a spot into Likud, without remaining a separate faction. In other words, Bennett and Shaked will become Likud MKs for all intents and purposes, without the ability to split off and do as they wish.
Benjamin Netanyahu is still worried about a scenario in which Bennett does a second U-turn and returns to the “change bloc.” Over the last week there were reports and briefings around this issue, which were denied by Yamina. Furthermore, a flyer calling on Yamina to form a government of change was distributed by several party activists. Senior officials in the “change bloc” believe that the source of all this ostensible “pressure’ is Bennett himself, with the intention being not to return to a government of change but to put pressure on Netanyahu on the issue of these guaranteed slots.
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Senior officials in several parties in the Lapid bloc say that after Bennett shed all his assets, he has no way of pressuring Netanyahu and making him keep his promises by giving him these guaranteed spots and the portfolios he was promised. He is therefore trying to concoct a new threat. Their estimate is that Bennett does not intend to join a government with the center-left and the United Arab List under any scenario.
Estimates are that Netanyahu will prefer going for another election over giving a rotation deal to the head of any other party. Netanyahu would prefer a direct election of a prime minister but will find it difficult to achieve this without the UAL’s support and with the control of the Arrangements Committee (which sets the agenda) in the hands of Yesh Atid.
Associates of Lapid have said they fear Netanyahu will try to get the mandate again during the remaining 21 days only in order to regain control of this committee, which is automatically given to the person charged with forming a government. Both Bezalel Smotrich of the far-right Religious Zionism party and UAL leader Mansour Abbas would have to sign off on such a move in order to give Likud the 61 votes it needs, for a majority of the Knesset’s 120 members. These signatures are not a promise of support for a government. Smotrich has said that he doesn’t rule out such a situation and will consider it.