Far-right leader optimistic Netanyahu can form coalition without Ra’am’s support

Bezalel Smotrich says he believes the PM’s right-wing rivals will ultimately join a government ‘without haters of Israel and terror supporters’

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

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich on Friday expressed optimism that Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing rivals will drop their opposition to joining a government headed by the incumbent prime minister.

Smotrich is a key member of Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc, but his far-right party opposes a coalition backed by the Islamist Ra’am party, without whose support the premier has no clear routes for assembling a government.

“This morning it also needs to be mentioned and clarified: A government that relies on terror supporters and terrorists is not a ‘right-wing government’ but a wanton government contaminated by blood,” Smotrich wrote on Twitter, referring to Ra’am.

He said such a government would lead “to the fall of the right and the rise of the left,” declaring he was “proud” to oppose it and would do everything to prevent its formation.

“Since the elections I’ve worked tirelessly to form a real right-wing government led by Netanyahu,” Smotrich said. “If God forbid no such government is formed, the blame will be solely on the shoulders of the right-wingers who did not succeed in understanding the gravity of the hour, forgoing [their] ambitions, rivalries and personal boycotts, to sit together in the best and most natural government for Israel.”

A combination image showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) casting his vote in the Knesset election in Jerusalem on March 23, 2021 (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL) and Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas at the party headquarters in Tamra on election night, March 23, 2021. (Flash90)

His remarks appeared aimed at the right-wing New Hope party, which campaigned on replacing Netanyahu. The party, led by former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar, has reiterated it won’t join a Netanyahu-led government since the March 23 elections.

“I’m optimistic,” Smotrich said, declaring a right-wing government could be formed “without haters of Israel and terror supporters.”

The comments came a day after Smotrich met with Netanyahu, who was formally tasked earlier in the week with forming a new government. Netanyahu also met with Yamina chief Naftali Bennett, who has voiced support for a right-wing government but refrained from backing the Likud leader. Even with Yamina, Netanyahu’s bloc would have 59 seats, two short of a majority.

After meeting with Netanyahu, Smotrich issued a statement saying the two agreed “every effort should be made to convince Bennett not to break up the national camp and go to a left-wing government.” Smotrich was a top lawmaker in Yamina but split off from Bennett before the elections.

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett arrives for coalition talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 8, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Smotrich’s swipe at Bennett was swiftly rejected by Likud, which campaigned against Bennett but now needs his party’s support.

“The statement by Bezalel Smotrich doesn’t match reality,” Netanyahu’s party said.

The meeting between Netanyahu and Bennett was held at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. It was the first time Bennett had been allowed into the complex in over a decade, due to past tensions between him and Netanyahu. The premier’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, has reportedly long vetoed Bennett’s entry. But now Netanyahu depends on Bennett’s support if he wants to keep his hope of forming a government alive.

“I come here with a lot of goodwill and I pledge to do everything I can to rescue Israel from the chaos and establish a good government for the State of Israel,” Bennett told reporters before entering the Netanyahu’s official residence. “It is time for national responsibility.”

In consultations Monday with President Reuven Rivlin, Netanyahu received the endorsement from representatives of 52 lawmakers, the most of any candidate but short of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Yamina, with seven seats, recommended Bennett as prime minister, the only party to do so. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid got 45 endorsements. New Hope, Ra’am and the Joint List, with 16 seats between them, did not recommend any candidate for prime minister. On Tuesday, a reluctant Rivlin tasked Netanyahu with forming a government.

While Lapid got significantly more endorsements than Bennett, and his party has 17 seats to Yamina’s seven, he revealed Tuesday that he offered Bennett to serve as prime minister first in a rotation government. In apparent response to Lapid, Bennett said he would not head a left-wing coalition or abandon his principles.

New Hope has also voiced support for a power-sharing deal between Bennett and Lapid.

But throwing cold water on the idea that the Joint List could support such a coalition from the outside, Joint List chair Ayman Odeh said Thursday night that he would not support a government headed by Bennett.

Then-education minister Naftali Bennett (L) and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid during a ceremony at Netiv Ha’avot, at the West Bank’s Elazar settlement, on July 23, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

If Netanyahu does not succeed in forming a government, the president can either task a second person with the attempt (for another period of 28 days and a possible additional 14), or send the mandate back to the Knesset, giving the legislature 21 days to agree on a candidate supported by 61 MKs.

If the president appoints a second person and that person also fails to assemble a coalition, the mandate automatically returns to the Knesset for the 21-day period. During that time, any MK is eligible to attempt to form a government.

Rivlin has indicated he may not give the mandate to a second candidate if Netanyahu fails, but rather immediately send it back to the Knesset.

At the end of the 21-day period, if no candidate has been agreed upon by 61 MKs, the new Knesset automatically disbands and the country heads to yet another election, the fifth in under three years.

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