Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing challengers in Israel's fourth election cycle in two years didn't heed to his call on Wednesday to "return home" and form a right-wing coalition, which Netanyahu would lead.
While Yamina leader Naftali Bennett didn't say whether he would join a Netanyahu-led government, New Hope's Gideon Sa’ar outright rejected Netanyahu's plea.
Sa'ar broke away from Netanyahu's Likud to form his New Hope party in December. The splinter party garnered six seats in last week's election and he has since doubled down on his commitment not to return to a Netanyahu-led government.
Bennett, who has previously joined a government headed by Netanyahu and who leads the right-wing Yamina party, has not yet explicitly stated whether he rules out joining a Netanyahu-led coalition.
In his first public statement since election night, Netanyahu said that "it is no secret that we've had our share of differences, but we knew how to get past them." He argued that “the people have spoken with a clear voice” in support of a rightist government.
"Let's put these disagreements behind us. This is what the huge public who supported Likud and right-wing parties wants us to do. I call on you to come home," Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu added that a right-wing coalition led by him would be “strong and stable,” whereas “any other government would be an unstable left-wing government” that will dissolve “very quickly. It would be a disaster for Israel and for the Israeli economy.”
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"After three election cycles that ended with a deadlock, this time the people has spoken in a clear voice," Netanyahu said, adding that right-wing parties have won a clear majority in the March 23 vote, garnering together 65 Knesset seats."
Responding to Netanyahu's call, Sa'ar wrote on Twitter: "On the very same day that he and his people are spreading again false and delusional conspiracy theories against me and the president, Netanyahu reaches out to me to join him."
"I won't join nor support a Netanyahu-led government," Sa'ar said. "I'll keep my commitment to my voters."
He added that letting Netanyahu stay in power would "harm Israel. He prefers his own good over the good of the country." If Netanyahu "clears the way," Israel could move forward, Sa'ar said.
Bennett's Yamina party said he will "continue making every effort to form a good and stable government that will pull Israel out of the chaos."
Yamina's statement didn't accept nor reject Netanyahu's proposal. "Naftali is looking out for the citizens, not for [Knesset] seats," it said.
Netanyahu's delivered his remarks before President Reuven Rivlin starts coalition talks with heads of parties elected to the Knesset to determine who to task with forming a new government. Rivlin is slated to meet with party heads on Monday and begin consultations.
The Netanyahu bloc, which includes Likud, ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, as well as the far-right Religious Zionism, has 52 seats. The anti-Netanyahu bloc, a patchwork of left, right and centrist factions, is also just shy of a majority with 57 seats.
Netanyahu will need the support of at least two right-wing parties to get the mandate from the president to form a government.