New Right party leader Naftali Bennett on Sunday continued a media blitz against the background of the possibility of coalition talks failing and third elections within a year being called, warning that the right-wing bloc would suffer a “historic collapse” if that happens.
Bennett in recent days has hinted that he is ready to bolt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 55-strong bloc of supporters for the sake of preventing fresh elections, with both Bennett and media reports floating the options of Netanyahu entering a government without him and vice versa.
Bennett said Saturday that he would be prepared to sit in the opposition if a Likud-Blue and White unity government is formed, telling Channel 12: “If I am an obstacle to forming a government, I release Netanyahu from any commitment to me and to the New Right and am ready to sit in the opposition. The main thing is to get a government established.”
Leaders of rival Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party have claimed the premier’s bloc is preventing them from forming a government. Netanyahu has insisted on negotiating on behalf of all 55 MKs; Blue and White has said the stance is a transparent ruse to ensure Gantz cannot form a government, dooming Israel to yet another election.
On Sunday morning, Bennett further warned in an Army Radio interview: “If we reach elections for the third time we will see a historic collapse of the right-wing bloc. We will find ourselves with a full-blown left-wing government.”
Bennett’s fellow New Right member Ayelet Shaked echoed that sentiment, also in an Army Radio interview, saying that “if we reach third elections, the right-wing rule is in danger. We could end up with a left-wing government.”
Bennett, who has numerous times in the past called for harsher Gaza policies and criticized Netanyahu for what he says is a lackluster response to rocket attacks from the Strip against southern Israel, changed his tune on the matter Sunday, saying there was “no point” in a stronger response than that taken after ten rockets were launched by Palestinian terrorists over the weekend.
“That will lead to an unnecessary mini-round of violence,” said Bennett. “The thorough treatment needed in the Strip has to be carried out with serious work and not on a whim.”
On Saturday, Channel 13 reported that Blue and White offered Bennett and Shaked through “unofficial channels” two ministerial posts of their choice — likely defense and justice — in exchange for their three-member party joining a 55-member minority government along with Labor and Democratic Camp.
Neither side commented directly on the report, but neither denied the offer either.
That report and Bennett’s apparent shift in recent days have worried other right-wing leaders.
On Sunday, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the erstwhile Yamina alliance — which Bennett and New Right left after the September 17 election — warned in response that “dissolving the right-wing bloc would be irresponsible foolishness,” leading to the establishment of a leftist government like the one that approved the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, which “led to grave disasters.”
“Elections are bad but dissolving the right and forming an Oslo government are much worse,” Smotrich tweeted. “Leaders of the bloc must understand that the obstacle to a unity government is Gantz’s insistence on ruling out Netanyahu, and not the right’s unity.”
President Reuven Rivlin last month tasked Gantz with attempting to form a coalition after Netanyahu failed, but his chances of doing so are seen as even slimmer.
Both Blue and White and the secular right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party have called for a unity government with Likud, but without the other ultra-Orthodox and hard-right parties. Likud has refused to negotiate outside of the bloc of 55.
Since Gantz was handed the mandate to form the government last month, Blue and White has sought to negotiate with parties individually, but the Haredi and religious parties in the 55-member bloc led by Netanyahu have refused to meet with Gantz. Instead, they have insisted on having Likud negotiate on their behalf.
Negotiations between Likud and Gantz’s party have also snagged over Blue and White’s insistence it cannot support a Netanyahu premiership so long as he is suspected in three criminal cases — and may well be charged in them soon.
Avigdor Liberman — whose Yisrael Beytenu refuses to join a right-wing government with Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies and who has urged a unity government — on Sunday said Netanyahu would be “solely responsible” for another round of elections if they are called.
“Netanyahu is leading us to elections for the third time and the nation won’t forgive him,” Liberman said in a Facebook post, adding that Likud has not responded to his unity government proposal. He also criticized Netanyahu for both demanding to go first as prime minister in a rotation deal with Gantz and insisting that his religious allies be included in the government.
Shaked, in her Sunday interview, called on Liberman to “return to the right-wing bloc” and said the ultra-Orthodox parties — which categorically refuse Liberman’s demand to pass unaltered a law regulating the enlistment of religious seminary students to the military — must compromise.
Regarding a Channel 12 report on Saturday that Netanyahu is weighing appointing Bennett to the cabinet, possibly as defense minister, Shaked said the premier, “for his own reasons, is choosing to only hold talks with Bennett. Talks with Bennett are better than no talks at all. All that matters is that a government is formed and that Israel doesn’t go to elections again.”
Times of Israel staff and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.