Israel Election Results: Bennett Won't Name Lapid as PM Candidate, Sources Say

Israel elections 2021: Islamist party leader says 'time to create different reality' in Israel, stops short of naming PM candidate ■ Netanyahu calls on right-wing rivals to 'return home' ■ Arab faction Balad says won't endorse any PM candidate

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Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett in Petah Tikva, last week.
Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett in Petah Tikva, last week.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
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Haaretz

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Coalition negotiations are underway following Israel's unprecedented fourth election in two years. President Reuven Rivlin will meet with all the party heads on Monday before deciding which party leader will receive the mandate to form the next government.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud emerged as the largest party with the all votes counted. However, Netanyahu still does not have a clear path to a 61-seat majority needed to form a coalition.

The anti-Netanyahu bloc, a patchwork of left, right and centrist factions, is also just shy of a majority. The Islamist United Arab List party, headed by Mansour Abbas, and Naftali Bennett's Yamina have not yet declared their support for either bloc.

LIVE UPDATES

8:23 P.M. Sources close to Bennett say he won't name Lapid as PM candidate

Sources close to Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett, whose seven seats could help secure a majority to form a coalition, say he does not intend to recommend Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid as a candidate for prime minister.

Bennett is set to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday and with Lapid on Saturday. 

Meanwhile, members of the bloc of parties opposing Netanyahu are concerned because, as one of them told Haaretz, they still don't see a plan for forming a government and are stuck in a holding pattern.

According to one member of the bloc, only after the Bennett-Lapid meeting "will we know if it is even feasible to form a government together." (Jonathan Lis)

8:10 P.M. Islamist party leader says 'time to create different reality' in Israel

United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas said during a press conference on Thursday that "unlike all the other politicians, I never ruled anyone out. It's time to create a different reality."

UAL's four Knesset seats could give Netanyahu and his allies or the opposing bloc the necessary 61-seat majority for a governing coalition.

Prior to the election, Abbas refused to rule out joining a government led by Netanyahu, or supporting one from the outside. Since the election, Abbas has been courted by both sides, meeting with Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid earlier this week. (Haaretz)

5:08 P.M. United Arab List Chairman Abbas to hold press conference at 8 P.M.

United Arab List Cairman Mansour Abbas is set to hold a press conference Thursday at 8 P.M, after the party's showing in the recent election put him in the position of a potential kingmaker.

Members of Abbas' entourage declined to share details about his speech, whether he will reveal which candidate UAL intends to recommend to President Reuven Rivlin next week, or whether UAL will support a government led by Netanyahu or the anti-Netanyahu bloc.

UAL's four Knesset seats could give Netanyahu and his allies or the opposing bloc the necessary 61-seat majority for a governing coalition.

Meanwhile, Haaretz has learned that UAL invited dozens of public figures, academics and thought leaders to a discussion on Saturday about issues the Israeli Arab community faces with the aim of establishing an advisory council and formulating a plan of action. 

Prior to the election, Abbas refused to rule out joining a government led by Netanyahu, or supporting one from the outside. Since the election, Abbas has been courted by both sides, meeting with Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid earlier this week.

Meanwhile, members of the anti-Netanyahu bloc of parties are concerned because, one of them said, they still don't see a plan for forming a government and are stuck in a holding pattern.

"Currently, two events are expected to affect negotiations: Mansour Abbas's speech [Thursday], which will let us know where he is headed … [and] the Bennett-Lapid meeting, after which we will know if it is even feasible to form a government together," said one member of the bloc. (Haaretz)

4:10 P.M. Bennett and Netanyahu to meet Friday

Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day before he is scheduled to meet with Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, as coalition talks continue. (Josh Breiner)

3:50 P.M. Bennett and Lapid to meet Saturday evening

Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid will meet with Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett on Saturday evening as coalition talks progress, the party leaders announced in a statement on Thursday.

Bennett's Yamina has not committed its support to either the pro- or anti-Netanyahu blocs. Bennett has repeatedly declared that he would not serve in a government led by Lapid. (Josh Breiner and Jonathan Lis)

1:33 P.M. Joint List, Lapid meeting held 'in good spirits,' but no agreement yet

Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid and the Joint List's Ayman Odeh and Ahmed Tibi discussed in their meeting establishing a government to prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kahanist Itamar Ben-Gvir and far-right Bezalel Smotrich from forming their own coalition.

According to a statement, the three discussed a range of issues plaguing the Arab community, including the rising crime rate, and ways to combat them. They scheduled another meeting to continue the conversation on Sunday, in order to explore possibilities for replacing the Netanyahu government.

Tibi said that although meeting was held "in good spirits," until they meet again, "there is no agreement regarding a recommendation" to President Reuven Rivlin that Lapid form a government. "But the two sides agreed to act to stop a government of Netanyahu, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir."

Odeh said that Lapid demanded that the Joint List's factions recommend that he form a government. "We told him that he needs to bring 55 recommendations – if he does so, we'll consider the issue of recommending," he said. He added that he and Tibi presented a list of demands relating to the Nation-State Law, violence and building laws, among others. (Jonathan Lis and Jack Khoury)    

12:00 P.M. Lapid meeting with Joint List's Odeh and Tibi

Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid is meeting with the leaders of two factions of the Joint List coalition of Arab parties at noon in Tel Aviv.

Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List and its Hadash faction, and Ahmed Tibi, leader of Ta'al, are attending the meeting.

Balad, the third faction in the Joint List, announced on Wednesday that it would not back any of the possible candidates for prime minister.

On Tuesday, Odeh said that "Only after Lapid proves he has 55 backers" out of 61 needed for Knesset majority, "and the Joint List lays out its demands, we'll make our decision." (Jack Khoury)

WEDNESDAY

10 P.M. Gantz and Michaeli meet in coalition talks

Defense Minister and head of Kahol Lavan Benny Gantz has met with Labor party leader Merav Michaeli, as the two parties seek to advance a coalition to bring down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Gantz, whose party defied low expectations to secure eight seats in the March election, and Michaeli, who revived Israel's foundational party to reach seven seats, said the conversation will continue in the coming days. (Haaretz)

8:42 P.M. Bennett doesn't say whether he would join Netanyahu

Naftali 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," after a call by Netanayhu to join him.

Yamina's statement didn't accept nor reject Netanyahu's proposal. "Naftali is looking out for the citizens, not for [Knesset] seats," it said. (Josh Breiner)

>> Click here to read the full report

8:39 P.M. Sa'ar says 'won't support Netanyahu-led government'

New Hope leader Gideon Sa'ar said he "not join nor support a Netanyahu-led government," adding: "I'll keep my commitment to my voters." 

Responding to a call by Netanyahu to join a "stable right-wing government," Sa'ar said 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."

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. (Haaretz)

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar to “return home,” arguing “the people have spoken with a clear voice” in support of a right-wing government. This is his first public statement since election night last week.

At a press briefing, Netanyahu said 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.” (Haaretz)

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Balad, one of the factions comprising the Joint List, a political alliance of Arab-majority parties, said it would not back any of the possible candidates for prime minister.

Balad advocates for the rights of Arab citizens and greater democratic freedoms in Israel. The faction, which holds one of the Joinst List's six seats in the newly elected Knesset, said it hopes the other factions – Hadash and Ta'al – would follow suit. Hadash is represented by three lawmakers and Ta'al by two.

"Balad calls on the Arab parties not to back any candidate for prime minister because all candidates are racists and deny the rights of the Palestinian people. None of the candidates is willing to revoke the Nation-State Law and the other racist and discriminatory laws," the factions said in a statement.

"There isn't one candidate who is willing to commit to revoking the [Israeli] policy of pushing Arab community to the margins of society. Balad is not interested in internal struggles in the right-wing bloc and we refuse to be deceived by the illusions and lies of the Zionist left," the statement added. (Jack Khoury)

5:54 P.M. Gantz says ‘emergency’ requires unity in anti-Netanyahu bloc

Defense Minister Benny Gantz called for a unity government to oust Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, as Israel faces the prospect of a vacant justice ministry in the shadow of the prime minister's trial. 

With the imminent expiration of the role of justice minister on Thursday, Gantz augured that  "tomorrow there will not be a justice minister in Israel. In a few months, there will not be no attorney general." He also added that the prime minister's actions were "proof of a conflict of interest between the individual and the state."

Addressing the press, Gantz described the situation as a "wake-up call to all the honest people in politics" and said it is "less important who heads the government" so long as "Netanyahu ends his term."

The defense minister also said he sent a letter to the Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit questioning the fitness of Benjamin Netanyahu to serve as prime minister. (Haaretz)

5:10 P.M. Lapid and Gantz meet for coalition talks

Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz met on Wednesday to discuss a solution to the current political deadlock, a joint statement by the former partners said.

The statement said the two discussed the formation of "a government to replace Netanyahu," and that talks are set to continue this week. 

Defense Minister Gantz is set to address the media at 5.30 P.M.

Benny Gantz, the chairman of Kahol Lavan, joined Netanyahu's government following the 2020 election, causing Lapid to split from the political alliance. After the last election, Gantz vowed to replace Netanyahu. (Jonathan Lis)

4.28 P.M. Smotrich slams president's 'blatant inferference'

Religious Zionism MK Bezalel Smotrich took to Twitter on Wednesday to fiercely censure what he described as "blatant interference in the political process" by Reuven Rivlin, after the president called for "unconventional connections and cooperation across different sectors" in the formation of the next government.

The far-right leader of the Religious Zionism party, which achieved six seats in Israel's fourth election in two years, condemned the president's comments as "favouring a leftist-Arab coalition led by Bennett."

"The people chose Netanyahu [for prime minister] unequivocally," Smotrich wrote, and slammed Rivlin's interjection as "anti-democratic."

Earlier on Wednesday, Likud  party members, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, and Ministers Amir Ohana and Yuval Steinitz, accused President Reuven Rivlin of political meddling, following his speech upon receiving the final results of the election.

"The president doesn't get to decide the election results!" a mutual statement by the three Likud members said. (Haaretz)

2:37 P.M. Former coalition whip prompts President Rivlin to reflect before deciding

After the Likud's attack on President Rivlin, party member Miki Zohar said, “Who would be a better candidate to form the coalition?” Is it "the candidate who received 25 percent of the votes or the one who received 5 percent?"

"Bennett (head of right-wing Yamina which received 7 out 120 seats in the Knesset) confessed that he can't lead Israel with this few seats," Zohar added. (Haaretz)

1:42 P.M. Kahol Lavan's Benny Gantz criticizes Likud's allegations 

Kahol Lavan head Benny Gantz responded to Likud’s critique of the president: “No state institution is safe from the prime minister and his accomplices' persecution – it started with the police, the state attorney and Israel’s High Court of Justice, and now it’s the president."

Gantz then urged President Rivlin to complete his duty with "honesty and fairness," as he has done so far. (Haaretz)

12:52 P.M. Gideon Sa’ar and Yair Lapid slam Likud for ‘attack’ on president

In response to the statement by Likud slamming President Rivlin, Gideon Sa'ar, head of New Hope party, tweeted, "Likud's ferocious attack on President Rivlin, only days before his decision is due, is another step in a campaign, run by PM Netanyahu, against the state's symbols. Netanyahu wishes to eternally rule while crushing the all of the state's apparatuses. The time has come for him to step aside."

Yair Lapid also responded saying, “Likud’s attack on the president is yet another piece of evidence that there are only two options before us: Either netanyahu’s rule continues to endanger the state institutions or the anti-Netanyahu bloc offers an alternative.”

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12:35 P.M. Rivlin responds to Likud accusation of meddling

In response to criticism from the Likud, President Reuven Rivlin’s office released a statement saying that the president would bestow the mandate to form a government on the candidate with the best chance of doing so.

“The accusations against the president by the ministers and the Knesset speaker, dishonor those who spoke them, and it would have been better for them to say nothing at all,” the statement said. “As the president said, not an hour ago, the main consideration that will guide him in his choice of a candidate to form the next government is the candidate’s chances of forming a government that will earn the Knesset’s support,” the statement said. “This is how every president in Israel’s history has operated, and this is how the president operated in the previous election cycles. (Haaretz)

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12:30 P.M. Likud attacks president for 'meddling' in election results

Likud party members, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, and Ministers Amir Ohana and Yuval Steinitz, accused President Reuven Rivlin of political meddling, following his speech upon receiving the final results of the election.

"The president doesn't get to decide the election results!" a mutual statement by the three Likud members said.

"Since Israel's founding, each and every president has picked the candidate with the largest party – as it should be this time," they added.

Rivlin must now decide which candidate to task with forming a government. Likud, which received the largest number of seats in the Knesset, though it lacks enough willing coalition partners to form a majority government, wants Netanyahu to receive the mandate. Rivlin has repeatedly stated that he will award the mandate to the candidate with the best chance of forming a government. (Jonathan Lis and Bar Peleg)

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12:08 P.M. Gantz, Lapid to hold coalition talks today

Kahol Lavan head, Benny Gantz is set to meet on Wednesday with Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid to discuss a possible coalition.

On Tuesday, Gantz said he would recommend that Lapid be tapped to form a government.

"I am ready to do everything I can to form an honest government and avert a fifth election," Gantz said earlier this week. "Until then I will work from within the government to ensure that Bibi does not advance even one millimeter in his efforts to violate the rule of law." (Jonathan Lis)

10:45 A.M. President Rivlin receives official election results, calls for government to heal divides

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin received the official election results from Chairman of the Central Election Committee, Uzi Vogelman, on Wednesday.

"Seven years have yet to pass since I ascended to the presidency and this is the fifth time I have received the results of a Knesset election, the fourth in under two years," Rivlin said.

"The main consideration that will guide me as I choose a candidate [to task with forming a government] is the chances of a Knesset member to form a government that would win the Knesset's trust," Rivlin said. "A government that would heal the divides between us and heal Israeli society, which has been dealt a major blow in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic."

Rivlin added that Israel "needs a government that would pass a budget and extricate the state institutions from the political paralysis."

"I hope the elected officials will listen to the Israeli people," Rivlin concluded, "and the people's demand for unconventional connections and cooperation across different sectors for the sake of the citizens of Israel," Rivlin said. (Jonathan Lis)

09:28 A.M. Joint List, Yesh Atid to meet for coalition talks

Joint List and Yesh Atid representatives will meet on Thursday to discuss the Joint List's potential support of Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid receiving the mandate to form a coalition.

"Only after Lapid proves he has 55 backers (out of 61 needed for Knesset majority) and the Joint List lays out its demands, we'll make our decision," Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, said  on Tuesday in an interview with a local radio station.

Among the Joint List demands are finding a solution to the surging violence in the Israeli Arab community, the abolition of the Planning and Building Law, also known as the Kaminitz Law, increased funding for development, education and employment in the Arab sector, reviewing the Nation-State Law and an official commitment to Israeli-Palestinian peace process. (Jack Khoury)

>> Click here to read the full story

TUESDAY

10:27 P.M. 'I renounced my ego, now it's your turn': Sa'ar urges Lapid to join forces to form government

New Hope Chairman Gideon Sa’ar – who broke away from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party ahead of the March 23 vote – reached out to Yair Lapid, who currently heads the second biggest party in Knesset, and called on him to try and reach a majority to form a government.

"On election night, a week ago, I said we would act, without ego, to form a government of change. Today it is my duty to say: the game of collecting recommendations won't lead to forming a government, but rather a practical and swift effort to reach a parliamentary majority. The window of opportunity is time-limited," Sa'ar tweeted, tagging Lapid.

"I renounced my ego, now it's your turn," he added.

Lapid, on his part, tweeted that he would weigh all options but urged all parties to back him as canditate for prime minister.

"As I said during the campaign and as I'm saying now – Israel is more important than my personal ambitious, or anybody else's. The purpose of the 'bloc for change' in the coming week is to prevent the danger that the president task Netanyahu with forming the government. To keep that from happening, all the parties that are part of the bloc for change must recommend Yesh Atid, the largest party in the bloc, to the president. (Haaretz) 

4:14 P.M. Ultra-Orthodox faction says will do everything to avoid another election

The Degel Hatorah faction, which represents the Lithuanian stream of United Torah Judaism, said it is investing great efforts to avoid a fifth election in two years, adding it would be "a disaster for the economy and for Israel."

Degel Hatorah said in a statement that another election would "cause an outrageous instability" to the country. We are doing everything possible to form a coalition with the right-wing bloc."

The statement added that the party would discuss the issue with its prominent rabbis and follow their orders. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

1:56 P.M. Yair Lapid shouldn't count on automatic Joint List support, Ayman Odeh says

Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, has said on an interview to a local radio station on Tuesday that Yair Lapid should not expect the Joint List to automatically back Lapid to form and lead the next government.

"Only after Lapid will prove he has a tally of 55 backers (out of 61 needed for Knesset majority) and the Joint List will lay out its demands, we'll make our decision," Oden said. (Jack Khoury)

1:33 P.M. Gantz calls on UAL's Mansour Abbas to support anti-Netanyahu bloc

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz met on Tuesday with Mansour Abbas, head of the United Arab List, and asked him to align with the anti-Netanyahu bloc, said a statement from Gantz.

Last week, Abbas, who has become a potential kingmaker, says any deal will depend on solving problems facing Arab society. He further emphasized that the UAL is "not obligated to any bloc or any candidate."

Gantz and Abbas have agreed to continue negotiation in the coming days. (Haaretz)

11:06 A.M. Gantz throws tacit support behind Lapid

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz said on Tuesday he would recommend that Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid gets tasked first with forming a government.

"I will recommend him if I see it serves the purpose of replacing Netanyahu," Gantz said in an interview to Ynet.

However, when asked if Lapid could lead the next government, Gantz said he thought both Lapid and Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett are suitable for the role. When pressed if he would recommend Lapid to President Reuven Rivlin, Gantz said: "I want to see how we can reach 53 seats and then all that's missing is my eight." (Haaretz)

10:51 A.M. Religious Zionism chief Smotrich to reccomend Netanyahu

Bezalel Smotrich, head of the right-wing Religious Zionism party, has announced Tuesday that he will recommend Benjamin Netanyahu be tasked with forming a governing coalition.

"After two difficult years, Israel needs a stable and homogenous right-wing government," he tweeted.

He called on the right-wing party heads to "put aside any past grudges" and start cooperating for Israel's benefit. (Haaretz)

MONDAY

11:04 P.M. Some ultra-Orthodox leaders back Netanyahu, but parties face a dilemma

The Israeli election on Tuesday that ended in a stalemate, with any of the two major blocs shy of a majority, left ultra-Orthodox parties with a major dilemma moving ahead.

While Arye Dery’s Shas is continuing to stick with Benjamin Netanyahu, in United Torah Judaism the situation is more complicated. Agudat Yisrael, which represents the Hasidic wing of the party, said on Monday it would back Netanyahu either way, as Degel Hatorah, which represents the Lithuanian stream, is focusing on averting another election – even if it would mean endorsing a different candidate for prime minister.

“Serious talks are happening among the Haredim, (Gideon) Sa’ar, (Naftali) Bennett and (Bezalel) Smotrich,” says one knowledgeable source, referring to the leaders of the right-wing parties New Hope, Yamina and Religious Zionism. He adds that it is still hard to know how far the Haredi parties will be willing to go, and that the odds of a fifth election remain very high. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

>> Click here to read the full report

10:15 P.M. Ultra-Orthodox faction leader says will back Netanyahu for PM

Minister Yaakov Litzman, leader of the Agudat Yisrael faction of ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism, said there was "no question" his party would recommend Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister. 

"We told the public before the election we'll go with Netanyahu," he said at a meeting with party activists, adding, "As far as I'm concerned, Agudat Yisrael at least only would recommend Benjamin Netanyahu to the president."

United Torah Judaism is expected to back Netanyahu for prime minister in next week's consultations with President Reuven Rivlin, but its leader, Moshe Gafni, hasn't yet declared wether the entire party would endorse Netanyahu's candidacy.

According to Litzman, "Our goal is to form a right-wing coalition for all Israeli citizens. All other rumors are just [political] spins." (Aaron Rabinowitz)

6:57 P.M. Anti-Netanyahu bloc struggles to agree on a candidate

The maneuvering over the weekend to form a new government shows the confusion prevailing in the bloc seeking to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The leaders of the bloc, Yair Lapid, Gideon Sa’ar – and perhaps also Naftali Bennett, who has not committed himself to an anti-Netanyahu government – lack coordination and are separately positioning themselves to be tapped by President Reuven Rivlin to form the next government. (Jonathan Lis)

>> Click here to read the full report

6:10 P.M. Merav Michaeli: Labor won't join government without sexual assault prevention program

Labor leader Merav Michaeli tweeted that "the Labor party will not join any government without a sexual assault prevention program." She praised the  the police for it's activities in this regard.

"The time has come," she said, "for the government to give the police, the Attorney General's office, and the courts the necessary tools to address sexual assault." (Jonathan Lis

5:06 P.M. Explained: Why it’s proving so hard to form a coalition government

The bottom line of last week’s election is clear: For the fourth time in two years, Benjamin Netanyahu failed to secure the majority that would allow him to cancel his criminal indictment. His corruption trial is set to resume in Jerusalem District Court next Monday.

What is much less clear, however, is whether anyone – including Netanyahu – will be able to form a government this time, or if Israel will be headed to a fifth election this summer.

In order to form a government, at least one political party will have to retract a promise it made during the campaign. Overall, 13 parties will be represented in the 24th Knesset, and each of them made statements regarding the kind of coalition they would be willing to join. If all of them stay true to those pledges, mathematically, almost no coalition can be created. (Amir Tibon)

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