Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday held what he called an “emergency meeting” at his Jerusalem residence to warn faction members that the right-wing government was in real danger ahead of Tuesday’s elections.
Netanyahu told political allies he did not believe Likud had locked down majority support to be handed the task of forming the next government, and that the party must come out of the contest as the largest slate in order to ensure it continues to rule.
“It’s not spin, it’s real. We have to narrow the gap, and I tell you that if it does not happen, Yair Lapid will be prime minister,” he told Likud leaders, referring to the number two on the Blue and White party list who would assume the premiership after Benny Gantz as part of a rotation deal, if the party wins.
“We do not have 61 recommendations — the biggest party is what matters,” he said. He also claimed that the media was trying to “put Likud voters to sleep.”
In the 120-seat Knesset, at least 61 seats are required to form a majority coalition. Following the election, the president meets with all faction leaders and charges a Knesset member he believes is best positioned to form a government with the task.
In an interview Monday morning with Channel 12, the prime minister repeated his claim that he may not have the requisite number of recommendations from other party leaders to be asked to form a government.
“I do not have 61 recommendations and Gantz also leads in recent polls. In this situation they will be put on track toward a government and then they will go to Labor and Meretz and we will have a leftist government,” he said.
Facing a possible indictment in three corruption cases, including one charge of bribery, Netanyahu has been rumored to be planning to condition. or tacitly link, entry to the post-election coalition he hopes to form on support for the so-called “French law,” which would shelter him from prosecution as long as he remains in office. Several of the prime minister’s political allies have touted such legislation as a possibility.
Another possibility that has been floated is restoring legislation automatically granting Knesset members parliamentary immunity.
But Netanyahu told Channel 12 “There will be no French Law and no change to the immunity law. It’s all spin.”
In recent days, Netanyahu has issued appeals for support from right-wing voters, saying the right is in danger of losing its hold on power if Gantz’s Blue and White party emerges from the elections with a lead of four-five seats over Likud.
Despite the expected majority for right-wing factions in the 120-seat Knesset, Netanyahu has pointed to recent comments by President Reuven Rivlin pondering how to choose who should get the first shot at cobbling together a government. The premier has said the president would choose whichever party is the biggest if no prime ministerial candidate has a sufficient number of recommendations from other party leaders to assemble a coalition.
Netanyahu has indicated that he is concerned Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party, a radical right-wing list which is soaring in the polls on a pledge to legalize marijuana, and is seen to be heading for five to seven seats, will not recommend him for the premiership, changing the coalition arithmetic.
Feiglin has said he has no preference between Netanyahu and Gantz.
Netanyahu’s warnings have come despite polls forecasting right-wing and religious parties winning a majority of seats, suggesting Netanyahu will have a relatively straightforward path to forming a ruling coalition.
A number of leaders of smaller right-wing parties have dismissed the prime minister’s assertions, saying it was clear he would head the next government and that he was merely trying to strengthen Likud at their expense.
Netanyahu’s strategy of appealing to right-wing voters to support Likud is seen as a risky one, as increased backing for his party at the expense of political allies could leave one or more of them below the electoral threshold and thus deprive him of a majority.
Shas leader Aryeh Deri said Sunday that despite the loyalty shown by his party toward the prime minister, Netanyahu has shown “ingratitude” in his attempt to attract voters from smaller right-wing parties to his Likud.
“It hurts me and I even think it’s ingratitude,” Deri said, before noting the Shas party was the first to say it would recommend Netanyahu for prime minister.
In an interview Saturday night with Channel 12, New Right party co-leader Naftali Bennett accused Netanyahu of trying to “take down” small right-wing factions in order to shore up support for Likud.
Bennett, who is education minister, claimed Netanyahu’s strategy was geared toward forming a so-called unity government between Likud and Blue and White ahead of the expected release of US President Donald Trump’s plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
“Netanyahu is right about one thing — there is a danger,” Bennett continued. “There is a danger we’ll get Bogie as defense minister,” he said, using the nickname of Blue and White member and former Likud minister Moshe Ya’alon.
His co-leader Ayelet Shaked on Monday told 103FM radio that “The public isn’t buying Netanyahu’s fake alarmist campaign…Everyone can see in internal polling that the right-wing bloc is very strong and Netanyahu is the next prime minister.”
She added: “The question is whether the [small] right-wing parties collapse.”