Bennett: I release Netanyahu of any commitment to me; we just need a government

New Right head claims he’s fine sitting in opposition to prevent 3rd election; Blue and White said to have offered him and Shaked ministerial posts in potential minority government

New Right chairman Naftali Bennett is interviewed on Channel 12's 'Meet the Press' on November 2, 2019. (Screen capture/Channel 12)
New Right chairman Naftali Bennett is interviewed on Channel 12's 'Meet the Press' on November 2, 2019. (Screen capture/Channel 12)

New Right chairman Naftali Bennett said Saturday that he would be okay with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu breaking up the bloc of right-wing parties and would be prepared to sit in the opposition as a result, if that meant a coalition could be formed that would prevent a costly third election inside a year.

Implying support for a potential Likud-Blue and White unity government, Bennett told Channel 12: “If I am an obstacle to forming a government, I release Netanyahu from any commitment to me and to the New Right and am ready to sit in the opposition. The main thing is to get a government established.”

The remarks appeared to represent the first signs of willingness among Netanyahu’s political allies to break up the bloc of right wing and ultra-Orthodox parties formed after September’s election that Blue and White leaders have claimed is preventing them from forming a government. Netanyahu has insisted on negotiating on behalf of all 55 MKs; Blue and White, led by Benny Gantz, have said the stance is a transparent ruse to ensure Gantz cannot form a government, dooming Israel to yet another election.

Blue and White has sought to negotiate with parties individually, but the Haredi and religious parties in the 55-member bloc led by Netanyahu have refused to meet with Gantz since he was handed the mandate to form the government last month. Instead, they have insisted on having Likud negotiate on their behalf.

While the New Right spoke of willingness to sit in the opposition, his slate, which ran in the elections as part of the since-disbanded Yamina alliance, does not appear to be the part of the right-wing bloc that Blue and White has a problem with.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, on October 27, 2019. (Elad Malka)

Throughout the previous election campaign, Blue and White called on Bennett and now New Right No. 2 Ayelet Shaked to break away from the more hardline, religious members of the Yamina faction.

Also on Saturday, Channel 13 reported that the centrist alliance offered Bennett and Shaked through “unofficial channels” two ministerial posts of their choice — likely defense and justice — in exchange for their three member party joining a 55-member minority government along with Labor and Democratic Camp.

Neither side commented directly on the report, but neither denied the offer either.

Bennett told Channel 12 he has been in contact with both Netanyahu and Gantz and was prepared to meet with the latter “in order to convince him to join Netanyahu in a unity government.”

The leader of the centrist alliance has expressed willingness in recent weeks to serve in a government run with the legally embattled Likud leader, but has made clear it would have to be a coalition run by Blue and White and with Gantz serving first as prime minister if any rotational agreement is to be made with Netanyahu.

On Friday, Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu is considering reappointing Bennett to the cabinet amid warming ties between the two.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Education Minister Naftali Bennett (L) at the Knesset on March 12, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Netanyahu fired Bennett, the former education minister, and his ally Ayelet Shaked, the former justice minister, from the cabinet following the April election. He did this ostensibly due to their failure to enter the Knesset at the polls — though his move to do so before a new government had been formed was widely seen as a sign of soured ties.

Bennett later entered the Knesset again after running on the Yamina slate, an alliance of right-wing parties, in the September elections. However, Yamina has since subsequently split into its original factions.

However, Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu and Bennett were now on considerably better terms. The currently free portfolios are Diaspora Affairs, Welfare and Defense — the latter currently being handled by Netanyahu.

The report said such a move would indicate that Netanyahu was looking toward a third election and not reaching a compromise for a unity government with Blue and White’s Benny Gantz.

Bennett told Channel 12 on Saturday that he had not received any offer from Netanyahu and first heard about the possibility from the media.

Israel Hayom, a newspaper seen as very close to Netanyahu, reported last month that the two had grown closer since September’s election, in light of the ongoing political crisis and the right’s inability to form a government following the last two elections.

Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked attend a press conference in Ramat Gan, July 21, 2019. (Photo: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The paper said the two were in frequent contact to discuss strategy and possible political scenarios.

Bennett and Shaked, as New Right, are part of a bloc of 55 MKs that have vowed to only back Netanyahu for the role of prime minister following the September vote. But lacking a Knesset majority due to Yisrael Beytenu’s refusal to sit with religious parties, Netanyahu failed in his bid to form a government after the September election.

President Reuven Rivlin last week tasked Gantz with attempting to form a coalition, but his chances of doing so are even slimmer.

Both Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu have called for a unity government with Likud, but without the other ultra-Orthodox and hard-right parties. Likud has refused to negotiate outside the bloc of 55.

Meanwhile, negotiations between Likud and Gantz’s party have also snagged over Blue and White’s insistence it cannot support a Netanyahu premiership so long as he is suspected in three criminal cases — and may well be charged in them soon.

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