TV: Center-left may back Bennett for PM if needed to prevent Netanyahu majority

Some anti-Netanyahu parties weighing plan to support Yamina chairman in a rotational premiership to pull him from the right-wing, religious bloc, report says

Naftali Bennett announces he is running for prime minister, December 23, 2020. (Uri Cohen)
Naftali Bennett announces he is running for prime minister, December 23, 2020. (Uri Cohen)

Leaders of some center-left political parties are considering a plan to support Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Yamina party, for prime minister, if this is necessary to deprive Benjamin Netanyahu of a majority after the March 23 elections, according to a Friday report.

The move would be meant to draw Bennett away from a right-wing, religious coalition led by Netanyahu.

The offer would be for Bennett to serve as prime minister for a year in a rotational agreement, the Channel 13 report said, without citing sources. The report did not say who Bennett would rotate with in the potential agreement, but it would presumably be Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid or Gideon Sa’ar, head of the New Hope party.

The deal would only be on the table if Netanyahu’s coalition — including his Likud party, United Torah Judaism, Shas and Religious Zionism — were to win enough seats to form a 61 seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset with the support of Yamina, the report said.

The report did not identify which center-left parties were discussing the deal, but the talks would presumably involve Yesh Atid and Blue and White.

Bennett has announced his own candidacy for prime minister, and has not ruled out cooperating with either the anti-Netanyahu bloc or Netanyahu’s prospective coalition, but has said he will not sit in a government headed by Lapid.

Polls predict Lapid’s Yesh Atid faction being the second largest party after elections with around 20 seats, following Netanyahu’s Likud, with around 29 seats. New Hope and Yamina have been polling at around 11-14 seats.

MK Yair Lapid attends a Knesset plenary session at the Knesset in Jerusalem on August 24, 2020 (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

Neither the pro- or anti-Netanyahu camps have a clear path to a majority, according to recent polling.

A Thursday poll forecast Netanyahu and his religious allies winning 47 seats, with Likud winning the most seats at 29.

The Islamist Ra’am party, which has also not ruled out backing Netanyahu, was predicted to win four, and Yamina, 11. If those two parties were to back Netanyahu, that would clinch the premier a majority with 62 seats, according to the poll. But it would also force him to base his coalition on the support of a non-Zionist Arab party — a step which he has repeatedly attacked his rivals for supposedly pursuing, and which likely would not sit well with some of his hard-right partners.

Meanwhile, in the poll, the anti-Netanyahu camp had 58 seats. Assuming the Arab-majority Joint List stays out of any coalition, that the bloc’s constituent parties manage to paper over their major ideological differences and that Yamina joins in, it could form a coalition of 61, placing Bennett as a potential kingmaker.

The survey had the left-wing Meretz party failing to cross the electoral threshold.

Channel 12 analyst Rina Matsliah suggested Friday that Bennett would not refuse the premiership if offered, but would likely demand that certain parties such as the Joint List, Meretz and Yisrael Beytenu not be a part of his government and instead replace them with the Religious Zionism party, without the slate’s extremist candidate Itamar Ben Gvir from the Otzma Yehudit faction.

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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