Likud’s Katz: I would’ve been able to form coalition; Netanyahu chose opposition

Former finance minister says ‘too bad’ ex-PM didn’t step down from party leadership to enable right-wing government, but adds he respects decision

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and then-transportation minister Israel Katz attend the inauguration ceremony for a new train station in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi, September 17, 2018. (Flash90)
Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and then-transportation minister Israel Katz attend the inauguration ceremony for a new train station in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi, September 17, 2018. (Flash90)

Likud MK and former finance minister Israel Katz said Saturday night that he would have had no problem putting together a right-wing coalition following the last elections had former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu relinquished the party leadership, in another sign of growing distrust of the opposition chief within his own party.

Speaking with Channel 12 news, Katz repeated his claim that Netanyahu had rejected his proposal to give another lawmaker from the right-wing party a crack at forming a government, dooming the faction to the opposition.

“I suggested to Netanyahu at the time that since he is offering the head of every small party to be prime minister [in a rotation deal], then he could let me be prime minister,” Katz told Channel 12 news about the period immediately before the new government was formed last month.

Katz has previously been reported to say that he had suggested Netanyahu temporarily step aside to enable the formation of a right-wing government, since former Likud lawmaker Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party had said it could join forces with Likud if it wasn’t led by Netanyahu.

Katz asserted Saturday that had he been given the chance to assemble a coalition, he “definitely” would have succeeded in doing so.

“I think I was right on this, and it’s too bad that didn’t happen. But Netanyahu decided that he will go on to be opposition leader and we respect this,” Katz said, adding that he would contend for the leadership of the party when Netanyahu decides to no longer seek to win back the premiership from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Katz is not the only one eyeing Netanyahu’s throne or who has criticized Netanyahu’s handling of the post-election political situation.

Former health minister Yuli Edelstein has already reportedly been attacking Netanyahu in private conversations, with associates accusing the former premier of making “all possible mistakes” that cost Likud the government. Edelstein has also told associates he will run in primaries to become party leader.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with then-Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, at the Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, April 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, who has said he intends to run for Likud leader should Netanyahu eventually step down, last month said that Netanyahu got his “considerations” wrong and should have stepped aside to prevent a change in government.

Now the leader of the opposition, Netanyahu is trying to bolster his position at the head of the party with a charm offensive aimed at his colleagues after years of merely give-and-take relationships, three unnamed Likud MKs told the Israel Hayom newspaper in a report published Thursday.

“Netanyahu’s problem is that he is not trusted,” said one of the former ministers.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and Likud MKs Yariv Levin, left, and Miki Zohar, right, at a meeting of right-wing parties in the Knesset on June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu will therefore “need to work very hard” to rebuild his connections, the lawmaker said. “It is not clear whether he still remembers how to do that, and so in my estimation, it is doomed to fail.”

The report was unusual for Israel Hayom, which has long been extremely supportive of Netanyahu.

With the installation of a new government last month, which ended more than 12 consecutive years of Netanyahu’s rule, the Likud chief was forced to lead his party into the opposition, where there is a danger of lawmakers splitting from the party to join the government.

A proposed law change that would enable as few as four MKs from a party to leave and form a new faction — rather than the current one-third of party lawmakers — has added to the threat.

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