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Bennett: Goal ‘to replace Netanyahu,’ won’t back bill to let PM avoid legal woes

Yamina leader refuses to completely rule out partnering with Likud, but says he rejected recent offer to become defense minister, receive 2 top portfolios to join government

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett at a protest against the state's intention to close the Hilla Project, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on August 12, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett at a protest against the state's intention to close the Hilla Project, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on August 12, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett said Monday that he aims to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and that he will not support legislative efforts to help the premier avoid his corruption charges.

Bennett — speaking to Channel 13 just hours before the Knesset narrowly rejected a bill that would have deferred a Tuesday midnight deadline for passing the 2020 state budget, setting Israel on an almost certain course to its fourth general election in two years — pushed his own claim to head the next government.

“I say to the people, ‘If you want us to lead, vote for us,'” he said, describing the current leadership as a “terrible government that is only focused on internal squabbles while people are dying and losing their livelihoods.”

“Unequivocally, my goal, our goal, is to replace Netanyahu. I think Netanyahu and (Blue and White leader) Benny Gantz have failed with some of the worst governance in the history of our country,”  Bennett said.

Yamina is currently in the opposition with five seats, but polls in recent months have shown his party surging, particularly as the public became disillusioned with Netanyahu’s handling of the coronavirus and the accompanying economic crisis.

However, that surge has been dented in recent days by the entry of former Likud lawmaker Gideon Sa’ar’s new party, New Hope, into the race. Both Bennett and Sa’ar are competing for the right-wing anti-Netanyahu vote.

Gideon Sa’ar visits Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem on December 16, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

If both refuse to serve alongside Netanyahu, they would most likely deny him the ability to form a new government, according to the latest polls.

While Bennett on Monday insisted that he aimed to topple Netanyahu in elections set for late March 2021, he did not completely commit to refusing to sit with him, like Sa’ar and other parties have.

“My bloc says something very simple: ‘Give us enough seats and we will lead and form the (next) government,'” Bennett said, adding that he was willing to sit in a government with anyone “who supports a Jewish and democratic state and is willing to put their differences aside for two minutes to focus on income and health.”

Repeatedly pressed on whether he would be willing to serve with Netanyahu after the election, Bennet said that his party would evaluate the situation after the vote.

“If we get a few more seats than in the last poll [which showed Yamina on 14 seats], we will lead the government. If not, we will take our power and we will not be in anybody’s pocket; we will see then what the right path will be,” he said.

Still, to show how unlikely it was that he would join with Netanyahu, Bennett said he had in recent weeks rejected an offer to become defense minister again and receive two other senior portfolios by joining the coalition.

Then-defense minister Naftali Bennett of Yamina, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting of right-wing parties, on March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He also said that he would “emphatically” refuse to support legislation that would allow Netanyahu to escape his legal problems. “I oppose retroactive legislation,” he added.

A Channel 13 poll aired Sunday pointed to growing support for Sa’ar’s new party, eating into the electoral strength of  Netanyahu’s Likud/ultra-Orthodox bloc.

Since Sa’ar announced earlier this month he was leaving Likud to challenge Netanyahu for the country’s leadership, polls have suggested New Hope would shake up the political landscape and introduce several potential paths to coalitions that do not include Netanyahu, while seriously narrowing the premier’s path to leading the next government.

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