Right-wing and ultra-Orthodox political leaders rallied around Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday, agreeing to present a united front ahead of coalition talks after they jointly came up short of winning enough seats in Tuesday’s elections to form a new majority government.
With almost all votes counted, the Orthodox/right-wing bloc has 55 seats, the centrist/left/Arab bloc has 56, and Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman holds the balance of power with nine.
Netanyahu met at his office with United Torah Judaism party heads Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni, as well as Ayelet Shaked, Rafi Peretz, Bezalel Smotrich and Naftali Bennett of the Yamina electoral alliance. He met earlier in the day with Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.
A spokesman for the premier’s Likud party said the party chiefs decided to set up a joint negotiation team for coalition talks and act as a “single right-wing bloc” moving forward. This alliance would aim to prevent the unity coalition of Likud, Blue and White, and Yisrael Beytenu that Liberman is pushing, and that Blue and White leader Benny Gantz would seek to head.
After the talks, Netanyahu, speaking at a special Likud party faction meeting, said that the four ultra-Orthodox and right-wing parties would negotiate the coalition talks as one bloc with senior Likud lawmaker, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, leading them on the other parties behalf.
“Now that we have established the right-wing bloc, there are only two options: A government led by me, or a dangerous government that relies on the Arab parties,” Netanyahu said. “At this time, more than ever, especially in the face of the huge security and political challenges at stake, a government that relies on the anti-Zionist Arab parties must not be established. Every effort must be made to prevent such a dangerous government,” Netanyahu added.
“The national camp will move forward together and, with God’s help, we will establish a strong, Zionist and good government for the State of Israel together,” he said.
When it was put to him by a reporter that he doesn’t have the 61 MKs needed to muster a majority, Netanyahu refused to respond, and Likud MK David Amsalem, the outgoing coalition chairman sitting next to the prime minister, said he would not be answering questions.
Prior to the sit-down with Netanyahu, Hebrew media reports said the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties would demand the Likud leader commit to not forming a coalition without them in exchange for acting as a unified bloc and recommending him as prime minister.
An official from one of the parties said that such a united bloc would increase the right’s chances of forming the next government, the Walla news site reported.
While not enough to form a coalition on its own, Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu is hoping that President Reuven Rivlin will consider the 55-seat bloc as a single party and therefore agree to task Netanyahu with forming the next government because he has a bigger faction than the Blue and White party.
With most votes counted, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White and the left-wing bloc had edged ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud and the right-wing bloc. As it stands, neither party can realistically form a coalition government without each other or Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, who as kingmaker has vowed he will force a unity government of Likud and Blue and White.
“If we act as one bloc with 55 or 56 seats, whoever wants to form a government will have to join us. Liberman has vowed that he wants a unity government with Likud and Blue and White but won’t be able to because of the bloc we’ll establish,” one party leader told Walla. “This situation will give Netanyahu a better chance of forming the next government than Benny Gantz.”
Sources from the Yamina alliance, which comprised the New Right, Jewish Home and National Union until it announced its dissolution Tuesday night, told Haaretz on Wednesday that its members had “turned to the opposition.”
The New Right would not sit in a unity government headed by Gantz that included the left-wing Labor-Gesher and Democratic Camp parties, the sources elaborated.
A unity government that included Likud and Blue and White would have no need for them to achieve a majority, and even if they wanted to join, they would be negotiating from an inferior position and would not acquire any significant portfolios, the sources said.
Yamina announced it would break into three factions Tuesday night, minutes after exit polls showed the party comfortably sliding into the Knesset. Faction leader Shaked informed Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein in a letter that the right-wing party was splitting back into New Right and Jewish Home as originally planned before the joint Knesset run. Shaked and Bennett will remain together as leaders of New Right party, while Rafi Peretz will lead the Jewish Home party.
Speaking to reporters at Yamina headquarters in Ramat Gan, Shaked said even though the parties were splitting up, they would negotiate a coalition agreement as a single bloc.
With 90 percent of votes counted, Blue and White was projected to secure 32 seats in the Knesset, edging ahead of Likud, which stood at 31 seats. The Joint List of Arab parties had 13. Shas and Yisrael Beytenu had nine each, United Torah Judaism had eight and Yamina seven. Labor-Gesher had six and the Democratic Camp had five.