Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett asserted on Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should “absolutely not” assume that his right-wing, nationalist slate will recommend that the Likud leader continue serving as premier if new elections were called.
“Netanyahu cannot be certain that we will recommend him,” he said during an interview on Channel 13.
The remark appeared to represent a shift in strategy from the emboldened chairman of the five-seat opposition party, which has catapulted to as many as 16 seats in recent public opinion polls. Israelis appear to have responded positively to Bennett’s policy proposals regarding the coronavirus, which have centered around establishing robust testing and contact-tracing systems that allow for the economy to remain open amid the pandemic.
“I think this government is horrible and terrible on all fronts — one of the worst in the history of the State of Israel. On the coronavirus and other issues as well,” Bennett said.
However, he clarified that as the number of new coronavirus cases continued to rise in Israel, sending the country to another round of elections would not be appropriate.
“Once we re-take control of the virus, we need to overthrow this government,” Bennett said. “It has failed miserably in its handling of the coronavirus, and one million [unemployed] Israelis are paying an unbearable price.”
Despite having been a key part of Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc over the past seven years, Yamina opted to stay out of the unity coalition formed between Likud and Blue and White, claiming that Netanyahu had abandoned the right-wing and pushed them aside.
Branding Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz a leftist, Yamina recommended Netanyahu be tapped with forming the government after each of the previous two elections. But early on in the most recent race, the party refrained from taking a position on the matter, warning that without their right-wing presence in the government, Netanyahu would veer leftward.
Bennett’s comments on Monday appeared to be another attempt by the Yamina chairman to leave his options open, though few expect the right-wing party would be willing to sit with the various centrist and left-wing slates that would need to enter any coalition that could unseat Netanyahu.
Speculation about the possibility of new elections has stepped up amid a dispute between Netanyahu and Gantz over passing the state budget.
The government will automatically dissolve if no state budget is passed by August 25.
Netanyahu called for the swift passage of a state budget on Sunday, amid rumors that he intends to dissolve the governing coalition and bring Israel to its fourth election since the beginning of 2019.
In light of the public health and security challenges facing Israel, “there is no reason to go to elections,” Netanyahu declared during his Likud party’s weekly faction meeting.
“Israel does not need elections, it needs a budget, as fast as possible. All the economists say this. If we pass a budget now, we will be able to start the school year in September” and “pass on more and more money” to small business owners, the self-employed and the unemployed, he declared.
Netanyahu’s statement came only hours after reports said that lawmakers were poised to present a bill postponing the deadline for passing the state budget in an effort to prevent early elections, amid fierce disagreements between the government’s Likud and Blue and White parties.
Though the coalition deal between Likud and Blue and White mandates a two-year budget, Netanyahu has been pushing for a budget that will only cover the rest of 2020, citing the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
Gantz, however, has insisted that a two-year budget be passed, as stipulated in the coalition deal, saying it would provide greater financial certainty to those hurt economically by the government’s lockdown measures.
But commentators believe there are other issues at stake, as the passage of a one-year budget — or the failure to pass one at all — could allow Netanyahu to kick off new elections without having to hand over the premiership to Gantz next year, as stipulated by the coalition deal.