Bennett: Yamina won’t sit in a ‘left-wing’ government headed by Lapid

But Yesh Atid can still join a potential coalition, Bennett says; recent poll puts Yesh Atid at 18 seats to Yamina’s 11

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid (R) and Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett present an agreement reached between Israel's technological colleges and the Finance Ministry, at the Knesset, on October 27, 2013. (Flash90)
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid (R) and Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett present an agreement reached between Israel's technological colleges and the Finance Ministry, at the Knesset, on October 27, 2013. (Flash90)

Yamina head Naftali Bennett said Wednesday that he will not sit in any future government headed by a left-wing party, including the centrist Yesh Atid, but clarified that his party would agree to have Yesh Atid join a potential coalition as a partner.

“The time has come to replace Netanyahu, and it can only come from Yamina,” Bennett told the Kan public broadcaster. “Yamina will not sit in a government led by the left, including with Lapid as prime minister.”

“But we have no problem with Lapid joining the government,” Bennett said.

When questioned about his hanging a left-wing label on Lapid, who has described himself as on the right of the political spectrum, Bennett said that Lapid could “call himself a kangaroo if he wants.”

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

“These elections are within the national camp and I intend to replace Netanyahu,” Bennett said. “Most of the people are right-wing — it cannot be that somebody from the left sits in the prime minister’s office.”

Bennett has campaigned aggressively against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic and has presented himself as a candidate for prime minister, although recent polling numbers give him less than half the number of seats Likud is predicted to win.

Netanyahu on Wednesday mocked Bennett and New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar, his right-wing rivals, claiming they would partner with the centrist Yesh Atid and its leader Lapid after the election to form “a left-wing government.”

“It’s the eve of Purim, and Bennett and Gideon keep wearing costumes. They say all day ‘We won’t sit with Lapid.’ You ask them about the weather and they say ‘We won’t sit with Lapid.’ They’ve got to deny it, but they have no way of forming a government without it being a left-wing government headed by Lapid,” Netanyahu said.

Notably, neither party has said it will not sit with Lapid in a coalition, only that he will not lead that coalition.

On Tuesday Netanyahu partly reestablished his bloc of right-wing, religious parties, which signed a loyalty pledge committing to support him as prime minister.

The move will further complicate efforts by Lapid and Sa’ar — the leaders of the likely second- and third-largest parties, respectively — to form a government.

If either performs well enough on election day and the right-wing bloc refuses to budge, they will be forced to look elsewhere for coalition partners, be it with Meretz, Labor or possibly the Joint List or Ra’am if the majority-Arab parties agree to offer support from the opposition.

If not, and the right-wing, religious bloc doesn’t cobble together at least 61 seats next month, the country could well be headed for a fifth election in under three years.

A poll released Tuesday by Channel 12 showed Netanyahu’s bloc still short of a governing majority. It said his Likud party would be the biggest if the March 23 elections were held today, picking up 28 seats, down from its current total of 36. A poll released by the network last week had Likud winning 29 seats.

MK Yair Lapid speaks at the Knesset in Jerusalem, August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

The second largest party after Likud in the poll was Lapid’s Yesh Atid party with 18 seats. The next two largest factions were the right-wing New Hope and Yamina parties, which were forecast to get 13 and 11 seats, respectively.

The predominantly Arab Joint List received nine seats in the survey, while the ultra-Orthodox Shas party got eight seats and fellow Haredi faction United Torah Judaism received seven, as did the right-wing, secularist Yisrael Beytenu.

The survey gave the center-left Labor party six seats and Blue and White five, up from other recent polls released by the network in which Gantz had four seats. Rounding out the poll was the far-right National Religious party and the left-wing Meretz, with four seats a piece.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center), Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (right) and then-health minister Yaakov Litzman (left) attend a conference in Lod on November 20, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Along with its Haredi allies and the National Religious party, Netanyahu’s Likud-led bloc had 47 seats. Even if Yamina were to join them, the parties would be short of the 61 seats needed for a majority.

While anti-Netanyahu parties had 62 seats between them, they are divided by deep ideological differences and no faction head appeared to have a clear path to forming a government.

Asked who was best suited to be prime minister, 31 percent of respondents said Netanyahu, 20% said Lapid, 15% said New Hope leader Sa’ar and 13% said Yamina chief Bennett.

National elections — the fourth in two years — were called after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline. The election, like the previous three votes, is largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s rule amid his ongoing trial on corruption charges, as well as his government’s varied success battling the pandemic.

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