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Bennett meets with Netanyahu again amid intensive coalition talks

Negotiating teams from Likud and Yamina reportedly record progress in negotiations, though prospect of government still slim

Yamina's Naftali Bennett arrives for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his official residence in Jerusalem, on April 13, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yamina's Naftali Bennett arrives for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his official residence in Jerusalem, on April 13, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Naftali Bennett met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the second successive day on Tuesday, after the Yamina leader said his party supports the formation of a right-wing government with Likud and stressed that averting a fifth round of elections in two years was his overarching goal.

Yamina, which won seven seats, has been negotiating with Likud over the creation of a government following last month’s inconclusive election.

Even with Yamina’s support, a coalition remains 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.

Following the three-hour meeting, Channel 12 news reported that informed sources said there had been “positive developments between the two sides.”

The meeting came as negotiating teams from Yamina and Netanyahu’s Likud have been meeting intensively in recent days in an attempt to reach an understanding, an unnamed source with knowledge of the talks told the Kan public broadcaster.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, addresses supporters at the party’s election night event in Jerusalem, early on March 24, 2021. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

The report said that Yamina also sent a message to Likud saying that if a vote to establish a key parliamentary panel went ahead without coordination with Yamina, it would ally itself with the opposition parties in the Knesset vote.

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

The Arrangements Committee, the first in the Knesset 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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Likud MK Miki Zohar. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bennett on Monday rejected media reports that his ambitions for a rotation agreement that would see him assume the premiership were keeping Yamina from committing to the Netanyahu-led bloc of parties to form a coalition.

“No position for me is a barrier to establishing a government,” he said. “If my goal was to sit in the prime minister’s chair I could already have done it.”

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 Religious Zionism leader MK Bezalel Smotrich is on board. The network said, however, that Likud sources were denying Yamina’s assertion that Netanyahu had made Bennett such an offer.

Head of the Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

It also reported that Netanyahu believes that Bennett is only going through the motions with him and has already decided to join forces with opposition chief Yair Lapid.

Unnamed senior officials from the Likud party told Kan on Monday that Netanyahu has given up on the possibility of persuading Religious Zionism to join a coalition supported in any way by the Ra’am party.

According to that report, Netanyahu is now convinced that Smotrich has no intention of changing his mind and agreeing to join a government that would have even the outside backing of Ra’am, and the prime minister will instead turn his attentions to persuading New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar to join his government.

The right-wing New Hope has not ruled out Likud, only Netanyahu, giving rise to scenarios in which Netanyahu relinquishes power and becomes either president or alternate prime minister, enabling Sa’ar’s party to join and form a right-wing majority coalition headed by another Likud member.

However, Likud officials have offered to back Sa’ar for the soon-to-be-vacant position of president in the hopes of pulling lawmakers from Sa’ar’s right-wing party into Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc, Channel 12 news reported Monday.

New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar at a party event in Moshav Azaria, April 4, 2021. (Flash90)

Sa’ar, a former Likud minister, has so far rebuffed Netanyahu’s appeals to renege on New Hope’s campaign pledge to not join in a government led by the incumbent prime minister.

According to the report, if Sa’ar were to accept the offer, the hope in Likud was that New Hope would break apart, with some of the party’s MKs moving back to Netanyahu. But Sa’ar rejected the offer.

The presidency is a largely ceremonial post chosen by members of Knesset. Current President Reuven Rivlin’s seven-year term expires in July.

Likud denied the report and said no such offer was ever made.

If Netanyahu does not succeed in forming a government within 28 days, the president 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.

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