The Yamina party, formerly known as United Right, will recommend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new government after September’s Knesset election, Naftali Bennett announced Wednesday.
“I say in the clearest and sharpest manner, Yamina will recommend Benjamin Netanyahu to be the next prime minister of Israel,” Bennett declared in a live broadcast on Facebook, adding that this was the view of “all the faction leaders” with the technical bloc. Previously, Bennett had been more ambivalent, speaking only of recommending the right-wing candidate with the best chance of mustering a coalition.
“I say this in the clearest possible manner,” Bennett continued Wednesday, “we are not Liberman who plays games and will bring about a left-wing government. We will only recommend the right-wing candidate, who is Benjamin Netanyahu, for prime minister.”
After elections, the president tasks the leader of one party to cobble together a ruling coalition. The president makes this choice by polling the leaders of all parties that passed the electoral threshold, asking whom they’d like to see as prime minister, and has nearly always accepted the opinion of the majority.
When announcing his party’s Knesset list last month, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said that there was “essentially no difference” between Netanyahu’s Likud and the centrist Blue and White party and that he would recommend that the first leader to call for a unity government be tasked with forming a coalition. In response, Netanyahu issued a strongly written statement saying “my commitment is clear: There will be no unity government.”
According to recent polls, neither the right-wing nor the center-left blocs will have enough seats to form a government without Liberman, setting him up as a potential kingmaker.
After April’s elections, Liberman refused to join a Netanyahu-led coalition, unless a bill formalizing exemptions to mandatory military service for ultra-Orthodox students was passed without changes, keeping the prime minister one seat short of majority.
Last month Bennett told Army Radio that he would “recommend the right-wing candidate with the greatest chances of forming a government,” implying he could also back another candidate from within Likud.
United Right leader Ayelet Shaked clashed with Likud as recently as this week, criticizing Netanyahu over the temporary closure of the Temple Mount holy site to Jewish visitors on Sunday and trading barbs with Culture Minister Miri Regev on Tuesday.
Among their arguments, Shaked accused Regev of falsely saying that there was a political alliance between Bennett and Yair Lapid of Blue and White. During coalition talks following the 2013 election, and in the government that was then formed, Bennett and Lapid — each then head of a party — had formed an alliance.
Last week Netanyahu complained that his right-wing rivals were not firm enough in backing him for another term as premier.
In a video on his Facebook page, Netanyahu implored Israelis who want a right-wing government to back Likud, arguing a vote for another party that fails to pick up enough support to enter the Knesset would harm his chances of forming such a government.
“Whoever says ‘I want Netanyahu to lead a right-wing government” should vote Likud and not say ‘I’ll give [my vote] to someone else… we will hope they pass the threshold and also recommend Netanyahu [as prime minister]’ — on this I also hear the stuttering of the members there on the right,” he said.
Netanyahu did not specify who he claimed was vacillating on whether to back him after elections next month, but his comments appeared directed at Yamina, whose leader Ayelet Shaked failed to enter the Knesset in April’s elections when running with the New Right party.
She and her political ally Bennett had also balked at making the recommendation of Netanyahu as leader of the next government a condition of merging New Right with a pair of national-religious parties to form Yamina, but eventually conceded.