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Despondent Likud intensifies attack on Bennett as coalition-building flounders

Party assails Yamina chief as possessing ‘uncontrollable ambition,’ accuses him of joining with Lapid to bring down PM; Bennett, Netanyahu to speak to media later

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett arrives for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his official residence in Jerusalem on April 8, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett arrives for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his official residence in Jerusalem on April 8, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Likud party on Wednesday assailed Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett, accusing him of failing to cooperate with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to form a government.

“Due to an uncontrollable ambition to be prime minister at any cost, Bennett – with just seven seats — is ready to crown a left-wing government,” the party said in a statement.

It went on to claim that Bennett was cooperating with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and working against Netanyahu “against the will of the voters who gave 65 seats to a right-wing government.”

Bennet was expected to respond to Likud in a statement to the media on Wednesday evening. Netanyahu was slated to speak after him.

Bennett has expressed willingness to back Netanyahu and has been holding intensive negotiations with Likud in recent weeks to do so.  Last week he stated that “Likud can count on the votes of the Yamina party in favor of forming a right-wing government.” On Monday he voted with Likud on its proposal for the makeup of a powerful interim Knesset committee — a vote the two parties lost.

But Yamina’s support is not enough for Netanyahu to form a government. The prime minister also needs Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party or the Islamist Ra’am party to fall in line. Sa’ar has stated that he will not serve under Netanyahu under any circumstance while far-right Religious Zionism has refused to cooperate with Ra’am in the same coalition. As a result, Netanyahu is left with virtually no shot at forming a government.

Likud’s statement appeared to target Bennett because he is the most viable candidate to form a government without Likud. While Bennett has been in coalition talks with Netanyahu, he has kept up contact with Lapid and the two could have enough support to form an alternative government of their own with parties across the political spectrum.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, April 20, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Likud also accused Bennet of joining forces with Lapid and “galloping to a left-wing government.” The party said that in his cooperation with Lapid, Bennett was setting himself up to violate a last-minute campaign promise in which he refused to serve in a Yesh Atid-led government. Lapid has offered Bennett to serve as prime minister first in a rotational agreement between them.

Likud called Bennett’s prospective actions “undemocratic and immoral.”

His “paralyzed left-wing government will collapse within a few months, leading to the dissolution of the Knesset and a fifth general election. It will not be able to withstand even one day of international pressure against the settlements and IDF soldiers alongside the [international] race toward dangerous agreements with Iran. It will not even be able to promote a single right-wing reform,” Likud said.

According to a Channel 13 report Tuesday, there are significant gaps between Lapid and Bennett on forming a government, with the two at odds over the allocation of ministries and other key issues relating to power-sharing.

On Tuesday, following Likud’s defeat in the Knesset on Monday, the party similarly slammed Bennet, charging that he was “rushing toward a leftist government with Meretz and Labor with the support of the Joint List,” the latter a predominantly Arab party.

It cited the fact that Yamina stood against Likud on a proposal for appointing deputy Knesset speakers on Monday night, after the loss on the Arrangements Committee vote (though it neglected to mention that Yamina had fully supported the prime minister on the main issue).

Likud’s proposal on the balance of power in the committee was shot down, despite support from Yamina and Religious Zionism, after Ra’am voted against it.

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 4, 2021. (Olivier FItoussi/Flash90)

Netanyahu also blamed Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich for Likud’s defeat, citing his repeated attacks on Ra’am amid the coalition negotiations, according to Kan news.

“He tripped us up,” Netanyahu was said to have told senior officials in his Likud party.

Ra’am leader MK Mansour Abbas said after the vote on the Arrangements Committee that he was driven away from supporting Likud in the vote due to “incitement” from Religious Zionism lawmakers, Likud allies, who regularly accuse the Arab Israeli parties in the Knesset of being anti-Zionist, supporting Palestinian terrorism, and hating Israel.

Abbas is also reported to have been frustrated by Likud keeping him out of the loop during negotiations with other parties over the committee and the coalition in general.

Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra’am party, gives a press statement after meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu told Likud officials that “Smotrich’s provocations of Ra’am’s people is what caused Mansour Abbas to go to the other side,” Kan reported.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu confirmed that building a right-wing coalition backed by Ra’am was no longer an option, and began appealing for direct elections, a new right-wing proposal spearheaded by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party to hold snap direct elections for the premiership.

In its statement Wednesday, Netanyahu’s party urged Yamina to back a direct election.

“Bennett refuses to support the only solution to the political entanglement which does not involve destroying the right: a direct election to elect the prime minister that does not involve dissolving the Knesset and more general elections,” Likud said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with then-education minister Naftali Bennett during a Knesset plenum session on November 13, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“If Bennett really wants a right-wing government, he must immediately announce that he supports a direct election for prime minister, and stop holding negotiations with Lapid to form a left-wing government.”

Likud believes Netanyahu will win such a race, which would give him an additional three months to form a government, though he would remain with the same Knesset math that has prevented him from forming a government until now.

Should the Shas bill pass into law it would prevent any further attempt to form a government even if Netanyahu fails to do so. In addition, it would block Blue and White leader Benny Gantz from taking over as prime minister in November, as is the current arrangement under the unity government agreement with Likud, if no new permanent government is formed by then.

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