Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday complained that his right-wing rivals were not firm enough in backing him for another term as premier, prompting a rebuke of his Likud party for wanting to bring Benny Gantz into a government after upcoming elections.
In a video on his Facebook page, Netanyahu implored Israelis who want a right-wing government to back Likud, arguing a vote for another party that fails to pick up enough support to enter the Knesset would harm his chances of forming such a government.
“Whoever says ‘I want Netanyahu lead a right-wing government” should vote Likud and not say ‘I’ll give [my vote] to someone else… we will hope they pass the threshold and also recommend Netanyahu [as prime minister]’ — on this I also hear the stuttering of the members there on the right,” he said.
Netanyahu did not specify who he claimed was vacillating on whether to back him after elections next month, but his comments appeared directed at the United Right, whose leader Ayelet Shaked failed to enter the Knesset in April’s elections when running with the New Right party.
She and her political ally Naftali Bennett had also balked at recommending Netanyahu assemble the next government a condition of merging New Right with a pair of national-religious parties to form United Right, but eventually conceded.
Responding to Netanyahu, Shaked accused Netanyahu of “throwing sand in the eyes” of voters.
“Instead of fighting with his natural partners, it is better if Netanyahu focus his efforts on enlarging the [right-wing] bloc if indeed a national right-wing government is his wish,” she said in a statement.
Shaked also took a dig at Netanyahu for vowing to form a right-wing coalition, noting previous center-left figures who served in his governments or were in talks to do so.
“Those who ‘stuttered,’ with [Ehud] Barak, [Tzipi] Livni, [Isaac] Herzog, [Avi] Gabbay and just yesterday when his people said they will go with Gantz, shouldn’t preach to the United Right,” she said.
Her mention of Gantz was in reference to Likud MK David Bitan saying Thursday that Netanyahu hopes to include the Blue and White alliance leader in the next government, but not Gantz’s deputy, Yair Lapid.
A day earlier, Netanyahu penned a column in the pro-Likud Israel Hayom daily ruling out a unity government with Blue and White, which Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman has said he will push for after elections.
According to recent polls, neither the right-wing nor the center-left blocs will have enough seats to form a government without Liberman, setting him up as a potential kingmaker.
After April’s elections, Liberman refused to join a Netanyahu-led coalition, unless a bill formalizing exemptions to mandatory military service for ultra-Orthodox students was passed without changes, keeping the prime minister one seat short of majority.
Rather than have another lawmaker be tasked with cobbling together a government, Netanyahu successfully pushed through a vote to call fresh elections on September 17.