Fearing internal revolt, Netanyahu said set to meet Likud local branch heads

As PM’s prospects of forming coalition appear slim, he is reportedly seeking a ‘display of power’ to deter senior party officials from trying to replace him

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Leumit Health Care Services vaccination facility in Jerusalem, February 16, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool via AP, File)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Leumit Health Care Services vaccination facility in Jerusalem, February 16, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool via AP, File)

Apparently concerned about a possible revolt among the ranks of his Likud party if he fails to form a government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly scheduled a meeting this week with heads of local branches of the party.

Netanyahu was formally tasked last week with forming a new government following the March 23 elections, which failed to produce a clear winner. The Likud chief was endorsed by 52 lawmakers, the most of any Knesset member but short of a majority in the 120-seat parliament.

To reach a majority, Netanyahu needs the support of Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, who he met with Thursday. However, even with Yamina’s seven seats, Netanyahu would still be two seats shy of a majority.

Multiple — and mostly improbable — scenarios have been floated on how to reach the magic number of 61, including relying on outside support from the Islamist Ra’am party (Netanyahu’s allies in the far-right Religious Zionism party have rejected such a prospect), trying to recruit “defectors” from other parties, and trying to get Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party to join such a coalition despite its key campaign promise not to join a Netanyahu-led government.

The right-wing New Hope, however, hasn’t ruled out Likud as a party, giving rise to scenarios in which Netanyahu relinquishes power and becomes either president or alternate prime minister, enabling Sa’ar’s party to join and form a right-wing majority coalition headed by another Likud member.

The Walla news site reported Saturday that Netanyahu is afraid that senior Likud lawmakers could try to form a government headed by someone else if he doesn’t succeed in the task himself.

The report cited senior Likud members saying they learned about the upcoming meeting with local branch heads from media reports.

The unnamed officials also estimated that the meeting is meant as a display of power aimed at deterring Likud officials from trying to undermine Netanyahu’s leadership.

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)

Netanyahu met last week with Bennett, with the meeting taking place at the prime minister’s official residence for the first time, after the Yamina chairman was regarded as a persona non grata there for over a decade.

Channel 12 news reported Friday that Bennett has agreed to rotate the premiership with Netanyahu in a government backed by Ra’am, but only if the Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich is on board. The network, which did not cite a source, said however that Likud sources were denying Yamina’s assertion that Netanyahu made Bennett such an offer.

The channel said another proposal being bandied about was to get Bennett and Ra’am to vote in favor of a Netanyahu-led government that would then be swiftly dissolved, leading to new elections. The aim of such a vote would be to boot Blue and White ministers from the current transition government and prevent Defense Minister Benny Gantz from becoming prime minister in November — as agreed last year under his power-sharing deal with Netanyahu — if no new coalition is formed by then.

It also claimed that despite all the machinations, Netanyahu believes that Bennett is only going through the motions with him and has already decided to join forces with opposition chief Yair Lapid.

Another proposal cited in the Channel 12 report would see Netanyahu step down as premier and take the position of alternate prime minister, but remain in the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem while Bennett or someone else in Likud becomes premier. The network gave no further details on the proposal and it was unclear how the arrangement would work or if it was legally permitted.

The position of alternate prime minister was created to facilitate the coalition agreement between Netanyahu and Gantz that imploded last year.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the swearing-in ceremony for the 24th Knesset, April 6, 2021 (Knesset spokesperson)

Separately, Channel 13 news said Bennett told Netanyahu that he was okay with the Likud leader serving first as premier for a year, after which he would take over as prime minister for two years, before handing the reins back to Netanyahu for a final year.

The network, which similarly did not cite any sources, said Bennett also told Netanyahu that he will take up Lapid’s offer to be first in a rotation deal if the Likud chief fails to form a government.

If Netanyahu does not succeed in forming a government within 28 days, 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 intimated 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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