With official coalition negotiations to begin at the end of the week, speculation was rife Sunday on the potential role of Naftali Bennett’s resurgent Jewish Home party and its 12 seats, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that security would be his chief consideration when forming the next government.
“The Middle East doesn’t wait for election results and won’t stop while we form the government,” Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, the first since the January 22 election.
“I will seek to establish a government that is as broad as possible, primarily to address to the security threats,” he continued. “I am convinced that we have the power to deal with these challenges.”
Netanyahu, as head of the joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list, which garnered 31 seats in the elections, will almost certainly lead the next government.
Netanyahu’s focus on security issues would appear to make the right wing Jewish Home party a natural ally. Bennett and Netanyahu have a rocky history which might prevent Jewish Home from joining the government, but sources close to the prime minister said Sunday that he did want the Jewish Home in his government.
The comments came after a report that Netanyahu doesn’t have faith in Bennett, according to a senior Likud official quoted by Haaretz, and is looking to exclude the Jewish Home from his coalition. “Netanyahu would certainly prefer not to include Bennett, if possible,” the official said, adding that Netanyahu would favor a coalition with Shas (11 seats), Yesh Atid (19), and Kadima (2).
Bennett worked as Netanyahu’s chief of staff during his first term as prime minister but left under undisclosed circumstances. Some in the Likud allege that Bennett has been behind leaks to the media of sensitive information regarding Netanyahu, an accusation Bennett has denied.
Bennett and Netanyahu’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, are known to dislike each other, and some have speculated that she is influencing her husband to veto the entry of Jewish Home into the government.
“It would be a mistake to turn Bennett away and keep [Jewish Home] out of the government, especially when it seems that the reason is the murky relationship with Sara Netanyahu,” a Likud MK associated with the party’s right flank said Saturday, according to Yedioth Ahronoth. “This is not a good enough reason… Our ideological base can produce a coalition with Bennett, Lapid and the ultra-Orthodox.”
Jewish Home MK Uri Orbach told Ynet News on Sunday that, in his estimation, “we’ll find ourselves in government” but it depends on Netanyahu. He dismissed the reported antagonism between Bennett and Sara Netanyahu, saying, “All this talk is by interested parties who wish to start a dispute. Let them enjoy themselves.”
Despite being the media darling of the election, Bennett’s thunder was stolen on election day by Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, which garnered a remarkable 19 seats, giving the centrist party a potential key role in a ruling coalition.
Yesh Atid and Jewish Home are in agreement about several hot-button issues, especially domestic concerns such as the economy, a smoother process for would-be converts to Judaism, and establishing a universal draft, but they differ sharply on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Jewish Home ran on a platform advocating unilateral annexation of major settlement blocs, while Yesh Atid supports renewed negotiations leading to a two-state solution.
Netanyahu has indicated that he wants to form a coalition with Yesh Atid. However it is uncertain if the ultra-Orthodox factions, which traditionally have been aligned with the Likud, will support such a move. Netanyahu will need either Shas or the Jewish Home to form a strong, center-right coalition along with Yesh Atid.
Shas’s Aryeh Deri made clear Sunday that the party wanted to be in the coalition, and said an Israeli government that excluded it would be a government of the “haves” that neglected the “have-nots,” and woiuld be a “government of the state of Tel Aviv.”
On Wednesday, Central Elections Committee chairman Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein will present President Shimon Peres with the official election results, after which Peres will begin holding consultations with party heads to determine who will be given the first shot at forming a coalition. Peres is expected to hold 48 hours of marathon meetings, starting with the leaders of the largest parties and working his way down the list and issuing a decision before Shabbat starts on Friday afternoon.