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Likud MK says far-right Smotrich responsible for Netanyahu’s ouster

David Bitan says party planned to have Ra’am abstain from vote, but Religious Zionism head refused any cooperation with Islamist faction

Likud MK David Bitan (L) and Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich (R). (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK David Bitan (L) and Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich (R). (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud MK David Bitan on Monday assailed the Religious Zionism party as the one to blame for the establishment the day before of Israel’s new government, which sent both parties into the opposition.

Following the March elections, Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich had ruled out any cooperation with the Islamist Ra’am party, denying Benjamin Netanyahu the possibility of a government.

“Netanyahu made a serious mistake with Smotrich. Because of us, [his party] passed the electoral threshold, and forming a government was prevented. Unfortunately, we paid dearly for it,” Bitan told Kan public radio.

Ahead of the election, Netanyahu signed a surplus vote-sharing agreement with the far-right party and worked to increase its support to attempt to secure a majority.

Outgoing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a Knesset session in Jerusalem on June 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schali22

The former premier also freed up a spot on the Likud list for Religious Zionism MK Ofir Sofer and reportedly made additional commitments to Smotrich that included a number of promised senior positions in Netanyahu’s coalition if a government was to be formed.

The deal engineered by Netanyahu also included the far-right Otzma Yehudit party joining forces with Religious Zionism before the elections, a move that allowed the entry of the extremist Itamar Ben Gvir into the Knesset.

Religious Zionism vowed in the agreement to not support anyone but Netanyahu as prime minister for the entire term of the 24th Knesset, while Likud promised to have representatives of Religious Zionism in any government formed by Netanyahu.

“Smotrich received five seats from the Likud and he should have let us form a government of 59 [members]. We asked him to wait patiently and we would add two more [members] later,” Bitan charged on Monday.

“We wanted [Ra’am chief Mansour] Abbas to walk out during the vote [of confidence for a Netanyahu government],” Bitan said, despite Likud MKs denying up until this point any talks had taken place between the two parties or that anything significant had been offered to the Islamist faction.

Israel’s new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L) talks with Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamic Ra’am party during a special session to vote on the new government at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021. (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP)

“Religious Zionism is the party that ousted Likud,” Bitan said.

Netanyahu’s 12-year term in office ended Sunday, after the new government — an unlikely alliance of right-wing, left-wing, centrist and Islamist parties — was sworn in. New Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in his inaugural speech Sunday, thanked Netanyahu for legitimizing Ra’am as a coalition partner, paving the way for its inclusion in his government.

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