Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out forming a government with his main rival in the upcoming general election, former army chief Benny Gantz.
Netanyahu's comment on Monday evening came after Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the new right-wing party Hayamin Hehadash, said he believes Netanyahu would reach out to Gantz to join him in a coalition.
"I would not form a government with Benny Gantz," Netanyahu told a group of religious reporters. "First off, I will be the one to build the coalition, and it will be a nationalistic Likud government, a right-wing government."
Speaking to the Israeli news website Walla, Bennett said earlier on Monday that Netanyahu's "first phone call would be to Gantz, and not to Hayamin Hehadash, because that's what he always does."
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Similar to Netanyahu, Bennett ruled out ever forming a government with Gantz. "I’ll never sit in a Gantz government, because he’s a lefty. It’s a leftist party," he added, referring to Gantz’s new party, Hosen L’Yisrael.
Hayamin Hehadash will only back a right-wing candidate for prime minister, “and that’s Netanyahu,” he added.
Bennett also alleged that “Gantz’s party suffers from a split personality.” He pointed to one member of Hosen L'Yisrael, former Yeruham Mayor Michael Biton, who he said favors evacuating settlements in the West Bank. “He said so at a conference run by J Street, nearly an anti-Israel organization,” he explained. “On the other hand, it has people who think we should annex and settle,” he said, "They need to make a decision on that issue."
"Ultimately, the head of the party is talking about another disengagement, like we've already seen," Bennett said referring to the 2005 disengagement from Gaza and implying that Gantz would do the same in the West Bank. "He's talking about changing the nation-state law. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck – even if in this case, it's a two-headed duck that can't decide if it's right or left," Bennett said.
Regarding the American peace plan, Bennett said, “The American administration knows that the only person who can stop a Palestinian state is me. So, they’ll present Donald Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ after the election and before the formation of the government – in order to mold the government in a way that suits them. If the plan talks about establishing a Palestinian state, I’ll be sure to stop it.”
When asked about reported efforts by Netanyahu to disseminate negative news coverage about Bennett's family in recent years, Bennett said he makes a distinction between personal and public affairs.
"Netanyahu's actions against my family in recent years are very grave and highly unacceptable to me," he said. “Nevertheless, I’ve sat with Netanyahu for six years [in the government] and I make a distinction.”