In Crunch Time, Right-wing Leader Bennett Says Netanyahu 'Doesn't Have a Government'

With a day and a half left before Netanyahu's mandate expires, he says he might agree to let Benett serve first as PM in rotation deal, offers 'important positions' for members of his party

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Naftali Bennett and Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to an Israeli army base in the Golan Heights, in 2019.
Naftali Bennett and Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to an Israeli army base in the Golan Heights, in 2019. Credit: Atef Safadi/Pool via Reuters
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes last-minute efforts to secure a coalition, right-wing leader Naftali Bennett said "Netanyahu doesn't have a government, and he's trying to pin the blame on Yamina."

Bennett's remarks at a Yamina faction meeting come moments after Netanyahu said he had told Bennett he would agree to let him serve first as prime minister in a potential rotation agreement, which could end Israel's ongoing political deadlock.

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But Bennett denied he ever made such a proposal, and even said it does not make sense to him. "I didn't ask for the premiership, I don't need convincing," he said. "Present a government, and we'll be ready to help."

In a statement posted on Facebook a day and a half before Netanyahu's mandate to form a government expires, he stressed the need to form "a right-wing government under my leadership," but said it cannot happen without Bennett – who has been in talks with both Netanyahu's Likud and anti-Netanyahu leaders since Israel's March election.

"In order to prevent a left-wing government, I told Naftali Bennett I would be willing to accept his request for a rotation agreement, in which he would serve first as prime minister for one year," Netanyahu said, adding Yamina lawmakers would be offered "important positions" in government and parliament.

Israel election final vote count

Netanyahu argued that once he secures "a clear bloc" of 59 out of 120 Knesset members, with Yamina's seven, "there won't be [another] election." 

Netanyahu's Likud won 30 seats in the last election. Ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, with nine and seven seats, respectively, also back Netanyahu.

With Bennett's Yamina and far-right leader Bezalel Smotrich's Religious Zionism parties, Netanyahu would have 59 lawmakers backing him for prime minister, still shy of a majority. Ensuring backing from the the Islamist party United Arab List would give Netanyahu a majority.

Speaking on Monday, Bennett said Smotrich "burned all the bridges" during coalition talks and blocked proposals for a right-wing government, with his opposition to any sort of collaboration with Islamist party United Arab List.

Earlier on Monday, Smotrich reiterated his opposition for any move that would rely on the support of the United Arab List.

Smotrich told Netanyahu Sunday that he would do anything in his power to prevent the forming of a government supported by the United Arab List.   

"It's very unfortunate that Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has repeatedly said that he wouldn't form a coalition with those terror supporters, is tirelessly working to put together such a government," Smotrich later said.

Sa'ar 'committed to change' 

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid

Negotiations among the anti-Netanyahu bloc have been proceeding slowly. Bennett has said he wants to reach an agreement with the parties seeking to replace Netanyahu on forming a government by Tuesday. But so far, the sides are far from any agreement.

Yamina said disputes have arisen with Yesh Atid over the division of portfolios, because Bennett’s party insists on getting what it terms the “ideological” ministries – justice, interior, religious services and education. But Yesh Atid, Labor and Meretz all vehemently rejected this, saying the only obstacle is currently Bennett himself.

New Hope leader Gideon Sa'ar, who is also involved in efforts to form an alternative government that would unseat Netanyahu, said he was "committed to change."

Even a one-year hiatus in Netanyahu's time as prime minister, as supposedly discussed with Bennett, "isn't what New Hope voters wanted. They voted for change, and that is why we... will do our best to exhaust any possibilities for change."

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