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Bennett reportedly weighs a possible alternative government with Likud

Prime minister denies report he talked with adviser about cooperating with Netanyahu’s faction, as opposition steps up pressure on renegade Yamina MK Orbach

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addresses the Knesset during a '40 signatures debate' in the plenum hall on June 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addresses the Knesset during a '40 signatures debate' in the plenum hall on June 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett discussed the possibility of setting up an alternative government with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party during a meeting with one of his political advisers in Tel Aviv on Thursday, the Kan public broadcaster reported. Bennett’s Yamina party denied the report.

Bennett’s coalition has been teetering for weeks, losing its majority and finding itself unable to pass even routine legislation. An alternative government could be set up within the current Knesset, without new elections, if another candidate can assemble a majority.

In the current Knesset, Yamina, Likud and the rest of the right-wing religious bloc still would not constitute a 61-seat majority. Bennett discussed with an adviser the possibility of roping in another party, such as Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, in a prospective new coalition, Kan reported, citing political sources.

Both Bennett and Sa’ar have previously cooperated with Netanyahu, but have turned against him and said they would not join him in a government during last year’s election campaign and coalition negotiations.

Bennett’s Yamina party said he had met with an adviser on Thursday, but denied that he had discussed any cooperation with Likud.

The report came as Likud stepped up pressure on Nir Orbach, a Knesset member from the right-wing Yamina who froze his participation in the coalition last week. Netanyahu’s party has been urging Orbach to ditch the coalition entirely and join its ranks. Orbach has denied widespread reports saying he is in negotiations with Likud.

Yamina MK Nir Orbach attends an Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset, June 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bennett’s coalition is an ideologically diverse array of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties, plus the Islamist Ra’am faction. The opposition has long tried to peel off right-wing members of the coalition, who are ideologically close to the opposition.

Netanyahu prodded Orbach during a memorial speech for the victims of the Altalena disaster on Thursday.

“I know that Orbach’s heart is in the right place,” Netanyahu said, according to Ynet.

“I know that Orbach is against a government that depends on the Muslim Brotherhood’s Shura Council,” he said, referring to Ra’am’s advisory body. Netanyahu and his allies have lashed the coalition for including Ra’am, even though Netanyahu himself courted the party ahead of last year’s elections.

“I know he’s against transferring control of the country and the economy to Ra’am, the Joint List and other anti-Zionist forces,” Netanyahu added, referring to other Arab lawmakers in the Knesset.

Directing his speech at Orbach, Netanyahu said, “You were right when you said in the Knesset in a moment of truth that the experiment has failed.”  Last week, Orbach almost got into a physical altercation with Ra’am lawmaker Mazen Ghanaim, saying, “The experiment with you guys has failed,” in reference to the coalition’s unprecedented inclusion of an Arab party — Ra’am.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on June 13, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“That failure is already endangering the entire country, endangering our future. At this crucial moment, there is a need to take action,” Netanyahu said.

Likud officials have tried getting in contact with Orbach in recent days to pressure him to ditch the coalition, but he has cut off contact and has not responded to them or returned any calls, Walla reported.

He was believed to be concerned that Likud is not interested in establishing a new government in the existing Knesset, but rather in forcing elections, and that he has no way to ensure that if Likud promises him positions for joining the party, he will actually receive them.

Channel 12 said Wednesday that Orbach was nearing an agreement with Likud.

The reported deal would see Orbach getting the 19th spot on the party’s electoral slate for the next election, virtually guaranteeing him a place in the Knesset, and a ministerial role in the next government.

Orbach sought to head the Education Ministry in a Likud-led government, but the party refused to hand over such a significant portfolio, the report said. Instead, Likud has promised to find him a suitable ideologically rich job, such as settlements minister.

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi in the Knesset plenum on May 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Monday Orbach announced that he was freezing his membership in the coalition, accusing  “extremist, anti-Zionist elements” such as Arab MKs Mazen Ghanaim and Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi (Meretz) of pulling the coalition “in problematic directions” and “holding it hostage.”

According to Kan news, the coalition, now in a minority in the Knesset, fears that Orbach will vote in support of a preliminary motion to disperse the Knesset next week. (The bill would need only a simple majority in the preliminary vote, but would have to pass three more readings with the support of 61 or more MKs to be successful.)

The coalition has been eulogized several times over the past few months, given the alarming rate of resignations by members. But so far, each time, Bennett and Lapid have managed to stanch the bleeding and hobble on.

In quitting the coalition, Orbach became the third Yamina MK to desert Bennett, who is left with just four party members in the coalition. MK Amichai Chikli bolted before the government was even sworn in, over its inclusion of left-wing parties. Idit Silman, who was coalition whip, quit the coalition in April, saying it was eroding the Jewish character of the state.

While Chikli has regularly voted against the coalition since, Silman has been more careful, in an apparent effort to avoid being designated a rebel and being slapped with sanctions. Orbach’s statement hinted that he will pursue the latter route. Unlike Silman, though, he informed Bennett of his decision ahead of time.

Rebel Meretz lawmaker Rinawi Zoabi and Ghanaim have also voted against the coalition, helping the opposition sink key legislation, including a bill extending Israeli legal provisions to settlers living in the West Bank.

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