Yamina leader Naftali Bennett on Sunday pledged that he would not support a government in which Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid was prime minister.
Bennett’s move came as parties jostled for last-minute support ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Israel’s 4th in two years.
During an interview with the right-wing Channel 20, Bennett produced and signed the declaration that had two points: “I won’t allow Yair Lapid to be prime minister, including in a rotation (agreement.)” and “I will not establish a government based on the support of Mansour Abbas from the Islamic Movement.”
Bennett then called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sign the pledge too.
Netanyahu has wooed Abbas’ Ra’am party, which split from the Joint List to run separately in this election.
Bennett’s stunt came after the final polls published before the election showed Netanyahu’s Likud gaining momentum, while his right-wing rivals Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar appeared to be losing support. Polls showed the centrist Yesh Atid as the second-largest party after Likud.
Bennett’s move appeared to be an effort to counter the message from Netanyahu’s campaign in recent days that warned right-wing voters that if they voted for him or Sa’ar they would in effect be voting for Lapid as prime minister.
While other parties have ruled out sitting with Netanyahu, Bennett has not done so, even as he has stated that he seeks to replace him as prime minister. He has repeatedly said in recent days that he will not sit in a government led by the left.
Bennett’s apparent about-face Sunday sparked mockery from his political rivals.
“Apparently the reason Netanyahu does not carry credit cards is that Bennett takes up all the room in his pocket,” tweeted Joint List leader Ayman Odeh.
Last week Netanyahu tried to get Bennett to sign a similar pledge, even promising to come to his house to get the signature, something that ended up with police setting up a large presence in case the prime minister decided to show.
On Friday, Bennett was surprised to wake up Friday morning to find a large contingent of police officers and security guards outside his home in Ra’anana.
The heavy security was there for a visit planned by Netanyahu.
Bennett said he was informed by the guards that “Bibi is coming to troll me.”
He then publicly invited Netanyahu to come into his home for a head-to-head debate.
“Gilat’s cake is waiting. (It’s kosher),” the Yamina chief added, referring to Netanyahu’s reported effort to smear Bennett’s wife for working as a pastry chef in the past at non-kosher restaurants.
מהבוקר כוחות משטרה ושב״כ מול ביתי עדכנו אותי שביבי מגיע להטריל אותי היום.
נתניהו, בוא לדיבייט. רק אל תתחרט ותבריז.
נדבר על איך ממשלתי תחזיר את הביטחון לתושבי הנגב שממשלתך הפקירה.
איך ממשלתי תוריד מסים מול ההוצאות הענקיות שלך.
העוגה של גילת מחכה. (כשרה). pic.twitter.com/hiAo28EvC9
— Naftali Bennett בנט (@naftalibennett) March 19, 2021
Netanyahu, however, never showed and the barricades were taken down hours later. The security preparations cost hundreds of thousands of shekels, according to Channels 12 and 13.
“Netanyahu came to troll, Bennett invited him to debate — Netanyahu ran away. The cost of the gimmick: half a million shekels to taxpayers,” Yamina said in a statement.
At a Likud campaign event in Ra’anana, Netanyahu said he had planned to obtain Bennett’s pledge to join a “stable right-wing government” and not be part of a coalition led by Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.
“Because Bennett announced he wasn’t interested, we decided to forgo this,” Netanyahu said at the rally.
The incident came a day after Bennett rebuffed a Likud minister’s call for him to pledge to back Netanyahu to form a government.
Bennett was previously part of Netanyahu’s bloc of right-wing and religious parties. Since being left out of the government Netanyahu formed last year with the Blue and White party, Bennett has become a vocal critic of the prime minister’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic but — unlike other rivals of the premier — has not ruled out joining a Likud-led government after the elections.