Israel Election Results: Bennett, Netanyahu Agree to Meet Again After First Round of Coalition Talks at PM's Residence

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Bennett arrives at Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem to discuss forming a government, last week.
Bennett arrives at Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem to discuss forming a government, last week. Credit: Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Thursday with Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett, days after President Reuven Rivlin tasked him with forming a government after an unprecedented fourth election in less than two years.

Netanyahu's Likud party and Bennett's Yamina party issued a statement shortly after the meeting ended, saying it was "held in good spirits," and that the "atmosphere was positive."

The two agreed to meet again for further coalition talks.  

This is the second time Netanyahu and Bennett have met after the March 23 vote to discuss forming a government.

However, this is the first time Bennett has arrived at the Prime Minister's official Residence, despite his long history with Netanyahu. All previous meetings between the two were held in the Prime Minister's Office.

For years Bennett was unwelcome at the Prime Minister's Residence because of his relationship with Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister's wife.

Bennett, whose party won seven seats, has not committed to joining a coalition led by Netanyahu, but has also not ruled it out.

"Since the election countless of Israelis have begged me to extricate the State of Israel from this never-ending chaos," Bennett said before the meeting started. "I come here with a lot of goodwill and I pledge to do anything within my power to extract Israel from this chaos and form a good and stable government."

Rivlin said no candidate has a real chance of forming new government, but decided to task Netanyahu, as he had received the most endorsements. Netanyahu now has 25 days to try and form a coalition, and may also receive a two-week extension from the president once that time has elapsed.

Netanyahu has also held meetings with the leaders of ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism and Bezalel Smotrich, chairman of the far-right Religious Zionism party, examining the various combinations that would allow him to form a coalition and block any possible attempts by his rivals to cobble together a coalition without him should he fail.

Netanyahu held a two-hour meeting with Smotrich on Thursday, in which they agreed to make every effort to convince Bennett "not to go into a left-wing government," according to a statement from Religious Zionism.

Likud later said that the statement "does not match reality," adding that it was the time "for working together and not for announcements that do not contribute to the shared effort we are making."

It remains unclear where Bennett is headed. In recent days he has been sending conflicting messages about his willingness to join a Netanyahu-led government. People who have spoken to Bennett in the last 24 hours received the impression that he is serious about his intention to form a coalition with the group of parties opposing Netanyahu.

Bennett is convinced Netanyahu is incapable of forming a coalition and is demanding to head a moderate right government. In exchange he would cooperate with the center-left parties and oust Netanyahu. He also believes the issue of Arab parties supporting such a coalition can be resolved.

Lawmakers who were marked as potential defectors to the pro-Netanyahu bloc have clarified that they would not throw their weight behind the prime minister. Each lawmaker who chooses to defect is liable to pay a steep political price and jeopardize their future in the Knesset due to the penalties imposed by law on moving from one party to another.

In any case, it seems that any future coalition is unlikely to survive. Those who would choose to defect are expected to find themselves in a fifth election round within a few months and be punished by the public.

Currently, all lawmakers from Gideon Sa'ar's New Hope party deny having any intention of crossing the line to Netanyahu's Likud. Yifat Shasha-Biton has recently said she rejected formal proposals from Likud to support Netanyahu’s government.

Yoaz Hendel, probably the only lawmaker who could defect with impunity – he joined Gideon Sa'ar as an independent faction – has called on Likud envoys to stop trying to convince him to change sides. Zeev Elkin and Sharan Haskel have also stated they would not join Netanyahu’s coalition.

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