Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu berated his political opponents for what he said were plans to partner with Arab politicians following elections in 2019, calling a minority government backed by Ra’am party chief Mansour Abbas a “danger to Israel” — but he is now rumored to be seeking such a partnership himself.
Abbas has not committed to either the pro- or anti-Netanyahu blocs following last week’s inconclusive election, Israel’s fourth in two years, and has emerged as a potential kingmaker. Both Netanyahu’s Likud and the so-called “change bloc” of parties opposing the premier have been courting Abbas since the vote.
Netanyahu wrote in a Facebook post in November 2019 that Abbas, then part of the Arab-majority Joint List, had said he would help form a minority government with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman to oust Netanyahu from office.
“Liberman and Gantz refuse to clearly say they will not form a minority government with the support of Ahmad Tibi, Ayman Odeh and their friends and terror supporters, which will depend on them,” Netanyahu wrote, alongside a composite picture of Abbas, Gantz and Liberman. Odeh is the chairman of the Joint List and Tibi is one of its lawmakers.
“A government like this is a danger to Israel and an affront to the lives of IDF soldiers who the same Odeh and Tibi want to put on trial as war criminals. There must not be a dangerous government like this one that is being planned today!” Netanyahu wrote.
היו זמנים (ממש לא מזמן…). הבעיה אינה בו. הוא כבר לא יכול לרמות אף אחד. אין במערכת הפוליטית אדם אחד שלא יודע שמדובר בפופוליסט שתמיד יתאים את האידיאולוגיה לצרכיו האישיים. מה שמפליא היא כמות השופרות שמוכנים לסמרטט את מה שנותר מעמוד השידרה שלהם מול הפייק הזה. pic.twitter.com/nOUGnNWL2h
— Ben Caspit בן כספית (@BenCaspit) March 30, 2021
Gantz led the opposition to Netanyahu’s rule in the April and September 2019 elections, which failed to produce a majority coalition. Netanyahu and Gantz formed a dysfunctional unity government in March 2020 following a third election, but it collapsed in December, precipitating Tuesday’s vote.
The Joint List, which won an unprecedented 15 seats in the March 2020 election, backed Gantz after the vote, the first time in nearly three decades that an Arab party recommended a mainstream Zionist politician for the premiership.
Ra’am, a conservative Islamist party, split from the Joint List in December after Abbas began to publicly display a warm working relationship with the prime minister.
The party won four seats in last week’s election, and along with the right-wing Yamina, with seven seats, has not committed to either bloc. The two parties hold the balance of power, but it is still not clear if any grouping can cobble together a coalition due to ideological differences among parties in each prospective bloc and disputes in the anti-Netanyahu bloc over who would lead it.
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, whose party has the most seats in the anti-Netanyahu bloc, met with Abbas on Sunday for talks about a potential coalition. Lapid is scheduled to meet with leaders of the Joint List later this week.
The Abbas-Lapid meeting came a day after Ayoub Kara, a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud party, met with Abbas and sought to portray Ra’am as different from other Arab parties. Kara told Army Radio he received requests from within Likud to visit Abbas, but didn’t specify from who. Other Likud lawmakers have issued contradictory statements about partnering with Ra’am since the election.
Netanyahu repeatedly ruled out relying on Ra’am to form a government in the run-up to the March 23 elections, calling the party anti-Zionist.
A Tuesday report said Ra’am was leaning toward giving outside support to a Netanyahu-led government. Ra’am and the far-right Religious Zionism party have ruled out sitting in a coalition together, however, denting Netanyahu’s already slim prospects for forming a majority coalition.
Abbas has reportedly conditioned his backing for prime minister on a series of demands for the Arab community, including a budget for eradicating crime in Arab Israeli towns, amending the so-called Jewish nation-state law, expanding the powers of municipalities, granting building permits to Arab communities, and raising the percentage of Arab workers in the public sector.
Gantz met with Abbas on Tuesday to urge him to only back a coalition that will oust Netanyahu. Gantz later warned Abbas that Netanyahu would “renege on all commitments he gave you” if he secures the premiership.
After the previous elections in April 2020, Gantz entered a unity government with Netanyahu that was supposed to see them rotate the premiership, with the Blue and White leader taking over in November this year. However, the unity government collapsed after failing to pass a state budget in a development widely seen as engineered by Netanyahu to prevent Gantz from becoming prime minister.
Abbas also met Tuesday with Labor leader Merav Michaeli, whose center-left party opposes Netanyahu.
Abbas is expected to give a public statement in Hebrew on Thursday.
Lapid, whose 17-seat centrist party is the largest in the “change bloc” seeking to replace Netanyahu as premier, has met with several fellow faction leaders in recent days as part of coalition-building efforts. He has so far been endorsed by the Yisrael Beytenu (7 seats), Labor (7) and Meretz (6) parties to form the next government — for a total of 37 backers. The 6-strong Joint List may also recommend Lapid.
Gantz said Tuesday his Blue and White party (8 seats) would “automatically” back Lapid, provided that support would lift him to a 61-strong majority in the 120-member Knesset.
Netanyahu, whose Likud won 30, can also expect the endorsement of the Shas (9), United Torah Judaism (7) and Religious Zionism (6) parties — 52 seats in all.
The Central Elections Committee verified the election results on Tuesday and said no significant evidence of voter fraud was found.
President Reuven Rivlin will hold two days of consultations beginning April 5, the same day the evidentiary stage in Netanyahu’s graft trial starts, on who the parties back to form the next government. He is expected to task a lawmaker with doing so by April 7.