Netanyahu, Bennett said haggling over when Yamina chief would become PM

According to TV report, premier offering rotation after 2 years, while Bennett demanding to become Israel’s leader after 1

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on April 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on April 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

As they negotiate over the possible formation of a right-wing government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett have been wrangling over a potential agreement to rotate the prime ministership between them, according to reports over the weekend.

Channel 13 said Bennett was demanding a formula of Netanyahu serving as premier for one year, Bennett taking the office for the next two and Netanyahu returning for the final year; meanwhile, Netanyahu was offering he be prime minister for the first two years and Bennett get the job for the last two years.

Even if the two reach an agreement, such a coalition remains quite unlikely, as such a government would still need the support of the Islamist Ra’am party, a prospect utterly rejected by Netanyahu’s allies in the far-right Religious Zionism party.

The Channel 13 report also said Netanyahu had demanded Bennett promise not to form a coalition with the center-left if he fails to cobble together a government, but Bennett reportedly refused.

The two met Thursday evening in their first sit-down since the premier was tasked with forming a coalition Tuesday. Their parties later put out a joint statement saying there was a “positive atmosphere” and the two men would meet again.

The Likud chief was endorsed by 52 lawmakers following the March 23 election, the most of any Knesset member but short of a majority in the 120-seat parliament.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims he is the victim of an attempted political coup, in remarks after the first day of evidence against him in his corruption trial, April 5, 2021. (GPO)

According to Channel 12 news, Bennett has agreed to rotate the premiership with Netanyahu in a government backed by Ra’am, but only if 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 transitional 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 of 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.

Head of the Religious Zionism party MK Bezalel Smotrich at the party’s headquarters in Modi’in, on election night, March 23, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

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

The television reports came after Smotrich expressed optimism that the prime minister’s right-wing rivals will drop their opposition to joining a government headed by Netanyahu, while reiterating he opposes a coalition backed by Ra’am, whose members he referred to as “terror supporters and terrorists.”

Smotrich also met with Netanyahu on Friday, after which he issued a statement saying the two agreed “every effort should be made to convince Bennett not to break up the national camp and go to a left-wing government.” Smotrich was a top lawmaker in Yamina but split off from Bennett before the elections.

Smotrich’s swipe at Bennett was swiftly rejected by Likud, which campaigned against Bennett but now needs his party’s support.

“The statement by Bezalel Smotrich doesn’t match reality,” Netanyahu’s party said.

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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