Parties opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday stressed that the government they were working to form with Yamina chief Naftali Bennett was not signed, sealed and delivered, while accusing Israel’s longest-serving leader of inciting against them as he increasingly faces the prospect of losing the premiership.
“There are still plenty of obstacles in the way of the formation of the new government,” Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid, who is currently tasked with stringing together a coalition, said during a faction meeting. “That’s our first test. To see if we can find smart compromises in the coming days to achieve the greater goal.”
Nevertheless, Lapid said Israel could enter a “new era” within a week.
“Suddenly it will be quieter, ministers will go to work without inciting, without lying, without trying to instill fear all the time,” he said.
Lapid and other party heads spoke after Bennett’s announcement Sunday that he will seek to form a government with the “change bloc” of anti-Netanyahu parties, after weeks of publicly remaining noncommittal in talks between the rival political blocs. The prospective government, which would include centrist, right-wing and left-wing parties, would see Bennett serve first as prime minister for two years, after which Lapid would take over the role for another two.
The Yesh Atid chief also condemned Netanyahu’s speech Sunday in which he railed against the emerging government that would remove him from power.
“If you want to know why we have to change the leadership in Israel, go and listen to Netanyahu’s speech. It was a dangerous and unhinged speech by someone who has no limits anymore,” he said. “That’s exactly why we must form the government we’re trying to form. A government of people from the right, left and center who say to the Israeli public — we know how to work together and we don’t hate one another.”
Lapid noted that Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked, like Bennett, has now been given an increased security detail, “because people want to kill her.
“I have a security detail. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. Prosecutor Liat Ben Ari. Journalists Rina Matzliach, Dana Weiss, Yonit Levy, Amnon Abramovich and Guy Peleg. We’ve all been threatened with violence and murder,” Lapid said, referring to the top law enforcement officials who indicted Netanyahu in a series of graft cases and a number of journalists at Channel 12 news.
In a potential setback to Lapid’s plans, the Yisrael Beytenu and Blue and White parties openly feuded Monday over which of them would receive the Agriculture Ministry.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz demanded the agriculture portfolio and that one of his party’s members be placed on the Judicial Appointments Committee, saying there were “gaps” between the parties in coalition talks but expressing hope they can be bridged.
“There are gaps and there are disagreements that need to be bridged,” Gantz said, noting his eight-seat party is larger than other factions set to join the coalition.
“If it were dependent on my personal ambitions, there would be no ‘change government,’” he added. “I gave up the Prime Minister’s Office. I could have been prime minister in the current government. If I had agreed [to Netanyahu’s offer] to be first in rotation for the next two and a half years, I would have been prime minister.”
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman subsequently accused Gantz of seeking a pretext to undermine the efforts to form a government with his demand for the agriculture portfolio.
“I wonder if his holy war for the agriculture portfolio is an excuse to dismantle the change bloc,” Liberman mused at a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting.
He said the Agriculture Ministry was not up for negotiation.
Blue and White later reiterated its support for the so-called change bloc.
“We are committed to a change government and believe it will be formed in the coming hours,” the party said. “We recommend that everyone conduct negotiations behind closed doors and not issue unnecessary statements.”
In his remarks, Liberman also questioned Netanyahu’s mental fitness.
“I’m not sure he’s fit to fill the role of prime minister,” said Liberman, calling Netanyahu “mentally unstable.”
Also speaking at the Knesset was New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar, who said it remained unclear that a government will be formed, as he threw his support behind the emerging coalition.
“Even now, it’s uncertain whether a government will be formed, but we are doing and will continue to do all we can to see it established,” Sa’ar said during a faction meeting.
Sa’ar, a former minister in Netanyahu’s Likud party, explained his Sunday refusal of the premier’s offer to be prime minister in a three-way rotation deal that would also include Bennett, saying it would have kept the incumbent in power in all but name.
The New Hope chief said the “the incitement machine is working at full strength” to discredit the potential government even before it is established.
He rejected Netanyahu’s characterization of the “change government” as left-wing and noted Netanyahu has formed numerous governments with parties that aren’t right-wing.
“The left with Netanyahu — awesome. The left without Netanyahu — a threat,” he said sarcastically.
Sa’ar also vowed to uphold his right-wing values in the new government, should it be created.
“We will not allow harm to come to the Land of Israel, just as we will not allow democracy to be harmed,” he said.
Officials in Yamina party also said there were gaps between the parties but insisted they could be resolved.
“There are no irreconcilable disagreements vis-a-vis the other parties in the coalition,” an unnamed Yamina official told Channel 12.
Meanwhile, factions in Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc, led by the premier’s Likud party, continued to lash out at Bennett and Sa’ar Monday.
“A lot of pompous words can’t hide the simple truth that Gideon and Bennett are hiding: It’s possible to form a right-wing government in a short time, instead of galloping toward a dangerous left-wing government,” Likud wrote on the party’s Twitter account.
The ultra-Orthodox Shas party also claimed it was still possible to put together a right-wing majority, urging Bennett and Sa’ar to reconsider Netanyahu’s offer of a rotating premiership between them.
MK Yaakov Litzman of the fellow ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party also urged Yamina and New Hope lawmakers not to form a government with Yesh Atid.
“Don’t repeat the mistake with Lapid,” he said, calling upon them to instead form a right-wing government with Netanyahu’s Likud.
Far-right Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, a former Yamina lawmaker, directed his ire at Bennett.
“We were very close. That’s why I knew and warned in advance exactly where he was headed and I parted with him before the elections,” Smotrich wrote on Twitter, accusing Bennett of “fully moving to the other side.”
“He switches camps and very quickly also views,” Smotrich said.
Earlier Monday, “significant progress” was reported in coalition talks after negotiating teams from Yesh Atid, Yamina and other parties met overnight.
Under the emerging rotation deal between Yamina and Yesh Atid, Bennett would serve as prime minister until September 2023 and then hand the reins to Yesh Atid leader Lapid. Joining the coalition would be a mix of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties that won’t join a government led by Netanyahu, who is on trial in three criminal cases.
According to several reports, Lapid — who was tasked by President Reuven Rivlin with forming a government after Netanyahu failed to do so — plans to announce that he has succeeded in coalescing a coalition by Tuesday, or even late Monday. He has until Wednesday to formally tell the president that a government has been agreed upon.