Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, speaking shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was tasked Tuesday with forming the next government, said Israel needs a stable right-wing coalition and asserted that he wouldn’t forsake his nationalist views for the dream of becoming prime minister.
Bennett’s comments, his first public remarks since last month’s inconclusive elections, did not commit him either to Netanyahu or to the bloc of parties seeking to oust the prime minister. During consultations with President Reuven Rivlin a day earlier on who should form a government, Bennett, along with his party, had recommended himself.
Bennett called for “the establishment of a stable government to save Israel from fifth elections and deterioration into an endless spiral of chaos and hatred.”
A “government that is formed must reflect, more or less, the array of opinions of the people, the national consensus,” he said, adding that that meant a right-wing, nationalist, but not “extreme” government.
“This is the will of the people: The establishment of a stable right-wing, nationalist government,” he said.
In an apparent shot at Bezalel Smotrich, a former Yamina member who now heads the far-right Religious Zionism party, Bennett added, “There are those who call themselves right-wing who have no problem dragging Israel to another terrible election, all in the name of lofty ideals.”
“There are no ideals there, only ambitions,” Bennett said.
On the other side of the political spectrum, said Bennett, were those who believe he would lead a left-wing government and forsake his ideals, an apparent reference to an offer by Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid for Bennett to become prime minister first in a rotation agreement between them at the head of the bloc of parties that want to replace Netanyahu.
“Both are wrong,” he said.
“I don’t know many politicians who faced the real, immediate prospect of becoming prime minister and didn’t grab it. I had no dilemma. I won’t ever give up my ideals, of Zionism and unity, for any job in the world,” he continued.
Bennett wished Netanyahu good luck in forming a government and said Yamina would negotiate “with goodwill” with Likud and anyone else.
Earlier Tuesday, Bennett and Smotrich engaged in a public battle over their coalition plans.
Smotrich fired first, attacking Bennett for not joining a bloc of parties led by Netanyahu and accusing him of working to thwart efforts by that bloc to establish a government.
Bennett’s Yamina party responded by calling Smotrich a “snake” who lies under the guise of lofty ideals.
Smotrich has already committed his party to joining Netanyahu and his ultra-Orthodox allies. Bennett, though leading a right-wing party, is seeking to become prime minister himself and has held negotiations for a power-sharing agreement with Lapid, leader of the bloc of centrist, left-wing and secular parties seeking to oust Netanyahu.
In a post to his Facebook page, Smotrich accused Bennett of breaking apart the right for selfish interests, saying he “seeks to create for himself legitimacy for the dissolution of the national camp and for irresponsible affiliation with the left.”
He wrote that Bennett knows any coalition he forms with left-wing parties will be short-lived and that his “unbridled personal aspirations disrupt his judgment.”
“The right will make him pay for it and he will disappear in the next election,” Smotrich predicted.
He also accused Bennett of persuading Gideon Sa’ar, leader of the New Hope party, to refrain from joining Netanyahu’s coalition-building efforts. Sa’ar, a former minister in Netanyahu’s Likud party, has vowed to see the prime minister replaced and has been striving to broker a rotation agreement for the premiership between Lapid and Bennett.
The Yamina party responded by tweeting that “Bezalel Smotrich is a snake in the guise of a righteous man,” who has bitten many on “the path of personal advancement that burns within him. All in the guise of ‘for the sake of heaven’ and ‘sublime ideals.'”
Smotrich, Yamina said, “tells barefaced lies, knowingly makes up facts that never happened, and is deliberately plunging Israel into fifth elections and chaos.”
Firing back, Smotrich, a former member of Yamina, tweeted that the string of insults directed at him “shows that Bennett knows I am right.”
“Hurling personal insults is the refuge of one who has nothing to say on the heart of the matter,” he wrote.
The dispute between the two is another hurdle for Netanyahu in his race to remain in office, as he needs both parties in order to join a coalition. Even then he would only have 59 seats and could be forced to rely on outside support from Ra’am, an Arab Israeli Islamist party.
However, Smotrich has vowed to leave the coalition if it rests on Arab Israeli parties, which he accuses of being anti-Zionist and supporting Palestinian terror.
The March 23 election was Israel’s fourth inconclusive vote in two years. Polls show that a majority of the public believes the country is careening toward a fifth election.