With Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s route to forming a new government seemingly blocked following several political setbacks this week, his rivals were reportedly pushing ahead with talks on assembling their own coalition to replace Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
Factions that back a prospective unity government led by Yamina head Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid, have reached understandings on numerous issues, including on religion and state, but the sides remain at odds over the allocation of ministerial posts, Channel 12 news reported Thursday.
Bennett and Lapid, along with Avigdor Liberman’s right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu party, agreed that a government they form should adopt the position of the liberal Orthodox Tzohar rabbinic group on religious matters, such as allowing municipal rabbis to perform conversions and ending the state rabbinate’s monopoly on kosher certification, according to the network.
The unsourced report noted the effort to reach agreement on religious issues could diffuse divides between the disparate factions that would make up the coalition, ranging from the right-wing Yamina to the left-wing Meretz.
Such understandings would likely face fierce opposition from the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, key members of Netanyahu’s anti-religious bloc.
A separate television report Thursday said Liberman was insisting that the Haredi factions not be able to join the new government for 18 months, though other party leaders in the anti-Netanyahu bloc were seeking to convince him to drop the demand.
If the Shas and UTJ were to join, Channel 13 news quoted a source in the “change bloc” saying, this would happen at the formation of the coalition. The network said that if they do in fact team up with Netanyahu’s rivals, the ultra-Orthodox parties will be given ministerial posts designated for the bloc’s right-wing factions.
Responding to the report, Yamina said Bennett would “not accept a boycott of the ultra-Orthodox during the formation of the government.”
“Bennett will not boycott the ultra-Orthodox or their representatives, nor any group in Israel. Any government in which we participate will take care of all Israeli citizens, and will not negatively label any population group,” a spokesperson for the party said Friday.
Liberman was previously a senior governing partner of Netanyahu’s, but the two fell out after the April 2019 elections over Yisrael Beytenu stipulating their joining a coalition would be on conditions rejected by the ultra-Orthodox — helping trigger Israel’s two-year long political impasse.
Additionally, the Walla news site reported Thursday that a meeting scheduled next week between Lapid and UTJ leader Moshe Gafni has been cancelled following internal pressure in the Haredi party. Gafni’s office said in response that the meeting was delayed to an unspecified date for purely technical reasons.
Haredi parties have long reviled opposition leader Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party, which has touted secularist policies and opposed ongoing ultra-Orthodox control on many levers of power. However, Gafni recently signaled his party may be less resolutely opposed to Lapid than before with Netanyahu lacking any clear path to reaching a ruling majority following the March 23 elections, the fourth in two years.
Also Thursday, Channel 12 aired a poll asking Israelis whether they back Netanyahu’s long-shot bid to hold direct elections for prime minister without a fresh vote for parliament. The proposal currently lacks sufficient support and would first require amending one of Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws — necessitating the very parliamentary majority eluding Netanyahu. It would also likely face a formidable legal challenge in the High Court of Justice, as it would entail sweeping legislative reforms by a caretaker government.
According to the network, 48 percent of respondents back the proposal, with 39% opposing it. Netanyahu has claimed most of the public supports the measure.
Pairing Netanyahu and Lapid together in a head-to-head matchup, the poll said the incumbent premier would get 43% of the vote, versus 37% for his rival. If he were to face Bennett, Netanyahu would get 41% and the Yamina chief 26%, according to the survey.
When opened up to other candidates, Netanyahu led the field with 36%, followed by Lapid with 23%, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz with 9%, and Bennett and New Hope chief Gideon Sa’ar with 8% each.
The survey was conducted by pollster Manu Geva. No margin of error was given.
Meanwhile, a poll published Friday by 103FM said that if new elections were held, Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc would have a bare majority of 61 seats if Yamina backs it. Currently, the premier is two seats shy of a majority with Yamina’s support.
Bennett has said that while he prefers a right-wing government led by Netanyahu, if the prime minister fails in forming one, he will try to form a government of national unity.
If Netanyahu fails to form a government by May 4, President Reuven Rivlin will need to either task a second candidate with doing so or send the mandate back to the Knesset to directly choose a lawmaker to do the job.
The opposition’s Lapid also faces significant challenges in forming a majority as the anti-Netanyahu bloc includes parties that are diametrically opposed in their world views on major issues, though the Kan public broadcaster said Friday that Rivlin is expected to give the Yesh Atid leader a crack at assembling a coalition if Netanyahu is unable to.
Should neither bloc establish a government, Israel would head to what would be its fifth election within three years.