Right-wing Yamina leader Naftali Bennett said on Friday he has "begun the effort to form a national unity government," after realizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wasn't going to reach agreements with other parties to form a right-wing government.
Bennett said in a Facebook post forming such a government, which would likely see Netanyahu replaced as prime minister, won't be easy, but added he is already holding "countless" meetings with other politicians, including members of Netanyhau's Likud, far-right Religious Zionism and ultra-Orthodox parties.
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Netanyahu has until May 4 to form a coalition, or be granted a two-week extension by President Reuven Rivlin. Should Netanyahu fail to nominate a government by then, Rivlin may task another lawmaker with forming a coalition that could end Israel's ongoing political stalemate, or ask lawmakers to agree on a candidate who has the backing of at least 61 of 120 Knesset memebrs.
Bennett argued Netanyahu wasn't doing enough to make sure potential coalition partners like Religious Zionism or New Hope – led by former Likud member Gideon Sa'ar, who became Netanyahu's rival – are brought to the table.
The parties that could be part of Bennett's proposed coalition "are all very different, and at times even opposing in their views," Bennett stated, but presented two leading principles that would bring parties together: a commitment to a "good, serious and functioning" government, and one that would "let us stick to our... national point of view."
"Such a government," Bennett said, wouldn't be able to annex the West Bank, "but it won't give away land either."
Netanyahu's Likud said in response Bennett's proposal would lead to a "left-wing government with a teeny tiny right-wing fig leaf. Bennett wants to be prime minister at any cost, including at the price of crowning a leftist government."
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Earlier on Friday, Bennett's Yamina party said it won't rule out teaming up with ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism – both closely aligned with Prime Minister Netanyhu – in a future government.
The party's statement comes on the heels of a Channel 13 News report that aired Thursday, according to which Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu, one of the parties that vowed to replace Netanyahu after Israel's March vote, had conveyed to the leaders of the anti-Netanyahu bloc that the fiercely secular, right-wing party would only join if ultra-Orthodox parties were left out of the bloc for at least a year and a half.
"Bennett will not accept a boycott of the ultra-Orthodox or their representatives, nor of any group in Israel," Yamina said. The party, helmed by Naftali Bennett, also said that it would only participate in a government that “takes care of all of Israel’s citizens” and does not discriminate against any sector, noting that “Any party that accepts the government's guidelines will be invited to join it."
Yisrael Beiteinu, for its part, said it "does not boycott any sector, including the ultra-Orthodox sector that fell victim to Shas and United Torah Judaism politicos who turned the tradition of Israel into a product on the shelf, which is for sale at full price."
In addition, the party noted that the agreement of any coalition it will ultimately join must specifically relate to four issues – military conscription, marriage, conversions and kashrut – which relate to separation of religion and state, a central issue for the party.
Members of the anti-Netanyahu bloc estimate that the chances of ultra-Orthodox factions joining the bloc are quite low. A lawmaker in one of the ultra-Orthodox parties told Haaretz that his party might join the anti-Netanyahu bloc, but only after its formation, and after it approves the highly anticipated draft law.
A senior official within the anti-Netanyahu bloc told Haaretz that the bloc is under the impression that UTJ Chairman Moshe Gafni, and the ultra-Orthodox factions, lack the courage or desire to move away from a Netanyahu-led government and support an anti-Netanyahu government – even if the Arab parties do not participate therein; Gafni had said on Tuesday that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party goes into the opposition following the results of last month's Knesset election. Nonetheless, the anti-Netanyahu bloc still hopes to convince UTJ’s Degel Torah faction to join it and simply abstain from any vote on the draft law.
On Wednesday, in a statement to reporters, Bennett said he would act to form a national unity government if Netanyahu failed to put together a right-wing coalition in less than two weeks, before his mandate to do so expires.
Bennett accused Netanyahu of seeking a fifth election, lamenting that despite his party’s exhaustive efforts to form a government, “Netanyahu is being evasive and attacking us...The State of Israel cannot be held hostage by politicians.”
Bennett stressed that “the people want a government, but Netanyahu prefers elections.” The Yamina leader added that if Netanyahu ultimately fails at forming a right-wing government, “I will work to form a national unity government.”
Netanyahu spoke shortly after Bennett, blaming him of being "willing to do everything in order to be a left-wing prime minister."
Netanyahu said a Bennett-Lapid government would be short-lived, adding that Bennett is prepared to join such a coalition only out of his personal ambition for power, which Netanyahu dubbed "limitless."
The prime minister blasted the idea that the leader of a party who won seven seats in Israel's last election could lead the country, and called on Bennett to support his proposal for a direct election for the premiership.
Yesh Atid's leader, Yair Lapid, responded to Likud's statement, saying: "An Israeli unity government is the only thing that can prevent a fifth election, not Netanyahu's tricks or empty promises which nobody believes."