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Bennett may ally with anti-Netanyahu bloc to form key Knesset panel

Amid coalition talks with Likud, Yamina expected to side with opposition on formation of Arrangements Committee, which would give it ‘maximum amount of power’

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett (left) and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid during the swearing-in ceremony of the 24th Knesset, at the Knesset building in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett (left) and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid during the swearing-in ceremony of the 24th Knesset, at the Knesset building in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party is expected to ally with the opposition parties in a vote on the establishment of a key parliamentary panel, despite having openly expressed support for a right-wing government led by Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Hebrew media reports on Sunday.

The vote on the establishment of the Arrangements Committee — expected to be headed by Likud’s former coalition whip, and key Netanyahu ally, Miki Zohar — was set to take place on Monday.

The Arrangements Committee, the first Knesset committee to be formed after an election, determines which parliamentary committees will be formed and who will serve on them. Crucially, it also controls the legislative agenda in the new parliament until a new government is formed.

By allying with the anti-Netanyahu bloc on the makeup of the panel, Yamina would be seeking to hold the tie-breaking vote, thus cementing its power.

“We don’t care about the blocs,” a Yamina official told the Walla news site. “We want the maximum amount of power, and this gives us the maximum amount of power.”

The maneuver comes as negotiating teams from Yamina and Netanyahu’s Likud have been meeting intensively in recent days in an attempt to reach an understanding on forming a right-wing government.

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett arrives for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on April 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Even with Yamina’s support, coalition efforts remain highly complicated for Netanyahu, as such a government would also need the backing of the Islamist Ra’am party, a prospect rejected by Netanyahu’s allies in the far-right Religious Zionism party.

Religious Zionism party chairman Bezalel Smotrich on Sunday reiterated his unwavering objection to such a scenario, saying the creation of a center-left government or new elections, which would be the fifth within two and a half years, were preferable options.

Ra’am’s charter calls Zionism racist and backs a right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

Asked on Twitter by pro-Netanyahu pundit Shimon Riklin what the alternative was to a government headed by the incumbent premier and backed by Ra’am, Smotrich tweeted: “The alternative is a full right-wing government!”

He was referring to a hypothetical government that only includes right-wing parties. However, Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, while right-wing, are unwilling to sit in a Netanyahu-led coalition. Liberman hasn’t budged for some two years, and Sa’ar — who formed his party after breaking away from Likud ahead of last month’s elections — is showing no sign of compromising on that stance either.

Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas (L) and Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich (R). (Sraya Diamant/David Cohen/Flash90)

But Smotrich lamented that Netanyahu supporters were pressuring him and “running to the hands of terror supporters” rather than investing efforts in pressuring Sa’ar.

According to Channel 12, Smotrich would even prefer a coalition led by Yesh Atid and Yamina, and backed by either the majority-Arab Joint List or Ra’am party, over a right-wing government that includes Religious Zionism and is backed by Ra’am.

Channel 12 news reported Friday that Bennett had agreed to rotate the premiership with Netanyahu in a government backed by Ra’am, but only if Smotrich were on board. The network said, however, that Likud sources were denying Yamina’s assertion that Netanyahu had made Bennett such an offer. It also reported that Netanyahu believes Bennett is only going through the motions with him and has already decided to join forces with opposition chief Yair Lapid.

Lapid has offered Bennett to be prime minister first in a rotation agreement between them. However, it’s unclear whether a government formed by the anti-Netanyahu bloc could be formed, as it would require the backing of right-wing, centrist, and left-wing parties as well as the votes of the Arab lawmakers, who have objected to Bennett as premier.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with then Defense Minister Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

If Netanyahu does not succeed in forming a government within 28 days (with a possible 14-day extension), President Reuven Rivlin can either task a second person with the attempt (for another period of 28 days and a possible additional 14), or send the mandate back to the Knesset, giving the legislature 21 days to agree on a candidate supported by 61 MKs.

If the president appoints a second person and that person also fails to assemble a coalition, the mandate automatically returns to the Knesset for the 21-day period. During that time, any MK is eligible to attempt to form a government.

Rivlin has intimated that he may not give the mandate to a second candidate if Netanyahu fails, but rather immediately send it back to the Knesset.

At the end of the 21-day period, if no candidate has been agreed upon by 61 MKs, the new Knesset automatically disbands and the country heads to yet another election.

If  Netanyahu fails to form a government by the end of his allotted mandate period, the so-called change bloc of opposition parties will seek to persuade Rivlin to give the mandate to Bennett, Channel 13 reported on Friday.

Sources in the bloc, which has vowed not to join forces with Netanyahu, told the network they feared that if Rivlin does not give the opposition a chance and sends the mandate back to the Knesset, it will become impossible to reach a consensus.

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