Netanyahu said devising plan to split Otzma Yehudit if Ben Gvir bolts coalition

Prime minister’s team reportedly approaches members of far-right faction in bid to maintain government majority in case of defection

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (R) and MK Almog Cohen in the Knesset on March 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (R) and MK Almog Cohen in the Knesset on March 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing a potential plan aimed at preserving his coalition’s majority if National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir bolts the government, according to a Thursday report.

Ben Gvir has repeatedly threatened to leave the coalition. If his far-right Otzma Yehudit party were to make such a move, Netanyahu’s government would be left with only 58 members, losing its Knesset majority. Netanyahu is therefore laying the groundwork to split the party if Ben Gvir defects, Army Radio reported.

Netanyahu’s associates have contacted different lawmakers in Otzma Yehudit and asked them about potentially breaking away from the party and remaining with the coalition if Ben Gvir were to jump ship, the report said.

Last month, while Ben Gvir’s faction boycotted Knesset votes to protest the coalition, Netanyahu’s associates contacted several Otzma Yehudit members about the potential option of remaining with the coalition if Ben Gvir leaves, the report added.

All the Otzma Yehudit party members rebuffed the overtures and some alerted Ben Gvir to the offers. Likud members were still mapping each Otzma Yehudit member’s priorities and “weak spots,” Army Radio said, with MK Almog Cohen still being pursued discreetly. Cohen has defied Ben Gvir in the past and has been punished for it.

A Likud spokesman rejected the report, saying such a plan “never happened and won’t happen.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a rally in support of the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv on June 1, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Netanyahu currently has a 64-strong coalition in the 120-member Knesset. Ben Gvir’s party has six MKs, which means at least half of them would be needed to maintain the coalition’s parliamentary majority.

The report also suggested that opposition MKs Gadi Eisenkot and Matan Kahana from Benny Gantz’s National Unity party are seen by Likud as potential defectors. However, both have rejected the prospect, saying they will never support the overhaul legislation being pushed by Netanyahu’s government “under any conditions.”

Tensions between Ben Gvir and Netanyahu have risen since last month’s clashes between Israel and Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad, during which Ben Gvir was excluded from security cabinet meetings despite his ministerial position.

In response, Otzma Yehudit announced it would skip Knesset votes, citing the government’s “feeble” response to the rocket fire from Gaza. Likud responded by telling Ben Gvir he could leave the government if he did not like the way Netanyahu runs it.

The rift deepened when Ben Gvir blasted Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for authorizing the return of three Palestinian gunmen’s bodies from a shootout with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank in March.

Ben Gvir slammed the decision to return the bodies, calling it “a serious mistake that will cost us dearly.”

The rift between Ben Gvir and Netanyahu’s Likud comes as the far-right minister has faced intense criticism over rising terror attacks and a sharp jump in murders since he came into office in December after running on a platform of keeping citizens safe.

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