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Bennett meets with Lapid for talks on possible government

Yamina, Yesh Atid leaders to meet again soon after ‘good’ 2.5-hour meeting; report says Bennett leaning toward backing Netanyahu

In this Sunday, November 24, 2019 photo, then-defense minister Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visit an Israeli military base in the Golan Heights, on the Israeli-Syrian border. (Atef Safadi/Pool via AP, File)
In this Sunday, November 24, 2019 photo, then-defense minister Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visit an Israeli military base in the Golan Heights, on the Israeli-Syrian border. (Atef Safadi/Pool via AP, File)

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett met with Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid on Saturday night for talks on potentially forming a government following the March 23 Knesset elections.

The meeting, the first between the two party leaders since the vote, follows Bennett’s sit-down on Friday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The 2.5-hour meeting was described as “good” in a statement from Lapid’s office. Bennett and Lapid agreed to meet again, the statement said.

Bennett has refrained from backing either Netanyahu or the premier’s rivals after the inconclusive election, Israel’s fourth in two years, positioning him as a potential kingmaker after his right-wing Yamina party picked up seven seats in the elections.

The parties elected to the Knesset will meet with President Reuven Rivlin on Monday to give their recommendations for prime minister. Rivlin is expected to announce on Wednesday which candidate will be given the mandate to attempt to form a government.

Ahead of Bennett’s meeting with Lapid, Netanyahu reissued a call for a “stable right-wing government.”

“The fight for the homeland and the Land of Israel isn’t over. The fight for settlement [in the West Bank] isn’t over. The fight is for our right to defend ourselves. The fight against Iran, which wants to return to the nuclear deal. In the face of these challenges and the tremendous opportunities there are before us, we now need a stable right-wing government for years, that will care for all Israeli citizens,” Netanyahu said at a Mimouna party, according to his office.

With the election results continuing the political deadlock of past elections over the last two years, it seems that neither the bloc that supports Netanyahu nor the bloc that opposes him will be able to form a majority government in the 120-seat Knesset.

Both blocs appear to need the support of Yamina and the Islamist Ra’am party to secure a majority. Ra’am, the smallest party in the incoming Knesset with four seats, said it had not decided on who to back for premier after a Saturday party meeting.

No candidate is likely to receive a majority of 61 recommendations from lawmakers, with Netanyahu expected to get 52, or 59 if Bennett backs him, while Lapid will at most get 57, but will likely receive fewer, according to Channel 12.

The network said Rivlin will likely ask party leaders whom they will refuse to sit with in a coalition. Sixty-seven lawmakers will not refuse to partner with Bennett, 66 for Lapid and 63 for Netanyahu, Channel 12 said, although it is unclear what Rivlin would decide to do with such information.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin speaks during a ceremony for receiving the official results of the election, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on March 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bennett met with Netanyahu Friday to hold negotiations on possibly forming a coalition government, in their first sit-down since last week’s elections.

Channel 13 said Netanyahu told Bennett that if Yamina backs him as premier, he will receive 59 recommendations, which will be enough to secure Rivlin’s appointment, since he claimed that Gideon Sa’ar of the New Hope party will abstain, and possibly Ra’am also.

Netanyahu offered Bennett a rotation deal to become prime minister after a year or 18 months, and for Yamina’s faction to be absorbed into Netanyahu’s Likud party, Channel 12 reported. Likud denied that Netanyahu had offered Bennett a rotation deal.

Following the election, Bennett has been demanding that he become prime minister in a power-sharing deal with either Lapid or Netanyahu, despite his party only having seven Knesset seats. Netanyahu’s Likud won the most seats in the elections, 30, while Yesh Atid is the second-largest party with 17.

Sa’ar, leader of the New Hope party which is also seeking to replace Netanyahu, is reportedly working to broker an alternate coalition that would see Bennett rotate the premiership with Lapid. However, the idea is said to be hampered by disputes over who should actually be tasked with forming the coalition, with both sides skeptical of the other’s commitment to follow through on the power-sharing agreement.

Before the election, both Sa’ar and Bennett said they want to see Netanyahu removed from power, but also vowed not to let Lapid be prime minister.

Bennett is leaning toward backing Netanyahu’s efforts to form the next government, but has not made a final decision on who to support as premier, sources in his right-wing party told the Kan public broadcaster.

However, the broadcaster said Bennett may not recommend that Netanyahu form a government, positioning him to potentially be tasked with assembling a coalition if the premier is charged with doing so but fails.

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid speaks at party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on election night, March 23, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Following the inconclusive election, a majority of Israelis do not believe a government will be formed following last month’s general elections, according to a Saturday television poll.

Asked if they think a government will be formed, 53 percent of respondents to the Channel 12 news survey said no, while 37% said a governing coalition will be established.

Forty-six percent say the most likely outcome is a fifth round of elections in slightly over 2 years, 27% said Netanyahu will form a new government and 16% think the “change bloc” of parties opposed to the premier will succeed. The remaining 11% said they did not know.

A plurality of respondents — 44% — said Netanyahu has the best chance to form a government, followed by Lapid with 17% and Bennett with 13%. The rest of the respondents said someone else, no one or that they did not know.

The survey was conducted by pollster Manu Geva. The network didn’t say how many respondents were included in the poll or what the margin of error was.

Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas speaks during a press conference in Nazareth, April 1, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Leaders of the Islamist Ra’am party met Saturday in Nazareth to discuss whom they will recommend the president task with forming a government.
Party leader Mansour Abbas attended the meeting, whose participants included activists, local council leaders and members of the party’s consultative council, Channel 12 reported.

Though he has expressed willingness to partner with either Netanyahu or his rivals — whichever offered a better deal benefiting Arab Israelis — Abbas has yet to endorse a candidate.

Ra’am could possibly put either Netanyahu or his opponents over the 61-seat mark, crowning the next premier. But right-wing politicians in both blocs have ruled out basing a coalition on the party’s support, due to what they say is an anti-Zionist stance; others have accused Ra’am of supporting terrorists.

Abbas indicated Saturday after the meeting that his Islamist party has not yet decided who, if anyone, to back as prime minister.

Asked directly about the matter by Channel 12 news, Abbas said, “We are awaiting developments in the coming days” on the readiness of the political establishment to accept a meaningful role for Arabs.

Abbas said the main aim of a landmark Thursday speech he made to the Israeli public was “to tackle the practice by which Arabs are excluded from the political process… Our demand is for active political involvement.”

“Naturally, there was some criticism of my speech [from within Ra’am]… legitimate criticism… no speech is perfect,” he added.

On Thursday Abbas gave a primetime speech in Hebrew in which he called for Arab-Jewish cooperation in Israel and urged Jewish parties not to boycott his conservative Islamist party.

But Religious Zionism party leader MK Bezalel Smotrich, who is a key member of Netanyahu’s alliance, said Friday that his party will not sit in a government that is dependent on any support from Ra’am.

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