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PM: Left-wing gov't will endanger Israel's land, state, army

Netanyahu swipes at Yamina, woos Sa’ar in bid to pry right-wingers from Lapid

PM claims agreement was reached with Yamina overnight, but that Bennett wants to prop up ‘left-wing government’ instead; Yesh Atid inks deal with Labor, but majority still elusive

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in Caesarea on May 28, 2021, imploring right-wing political rivals not to join a "left-wing government" with Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid. (Screen capture/Twitter)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in Caesarea on May 28, 2021, imploring right-wing political rivals not to join a "left-wing government" with Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at the head of the right-wing Yamina party Friday and reportedly made a far-reaching offer to another right-wing party, seeking to halt chief rival Yair Lapid’s march toward a long-shot governing coalition of parties intent on replacing the premier.

In a video statement shot in front of a beach in Caesarea where he owns a private home, an irate-looking Netanyahu claimed Yamina chief Naftali Bennett had refused to sign an agreement reached between their parties and was dead set on breaking promises to voters in order to form a “left-wing” government along with parties including ex-Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope.

“Last night at midnight, we came to terms with Yamina on a coalition agreement between us,” Netanyahu said. He claimed their deal includes “precedent-setting” and “far-reaching clauses… All with the aim of preventing a left-wing government.”

A Bennett-Lapid-Sa’ar coalition would mark a breach of promises to voters, and would contradict “all that is important in order to secure our country, when our backs are to the sea,” Netanyahu said, turning to look at the Mediterranean behind him. “This simply cannot happen… and it’s not late.”

Regarding Bennett and Sa’ar, who come from his rightist wing of the political spectrum but campaigned against him in the March elections, Netanyahu said, “They can still change their minds.” Others in their parties, too, he suggested, could still “find the courage” to block such a coalition and would be welcomed into a coalition under his leadership. “That’s what important? To establish a left-wing government, by invoking false claims?” he fumed. “To endanger the Land of Israel, the state of Israel, the Israel Defense Forces? What is going on? Is there no limit to cynicism?”

The video was released moments after word came that Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party and leader of the opposition, had inked a coalition deal with Labor, moving him slightly closer to cobbling together a coalition that would oust Netanyahu from power after over a decade at the country’s helm.

However, it was still unclear whether the so-called change bloc had its arguably most important piece, as the king-making Yamina party continued to waffle between the sides, holding backdoor negotiations with both Likud and Yesh Atid.

“I want to tell you that to my amazement Naftali Bennett is not ready to sign [the deal]. He has run to the left,” Netanyahu seethed in the video statement, seemingly designed to make Bennett fear a wedge being driven between Yamina and its right-wing base.

Aside from the video, Netanyahu’s party issued a separate statement in the name of “Likud sources” that provided additional details on the offer, claiming it had included Bennett rotating in as prime minister for the last 1.5 years of the government’s four-year term; making the Yamina leader defense minister; appointing him as deputy prime minister and having him serve as acting prime minister in case Netanyahu has a medical issue or travels abroad; and granting another two unspecified “senior” ministerial posts to Bennett’s party.

The offer also included a deal to give Yamina members six of the first 36 slots on a joint Likud/Yamina electoral slate should a fifth round of elections be called, a prospect increasingly likely with both Netanyahu and Lapid struggling to put together the necessary 61 seats for a majority.

The “Likud sources” didn’t specify what mechanism the parties would run on a joint slate under.

The Likud leader has referred to the government the change bloc is seeking to form as “left-wing” because it includes the center-left and left-wing Labor and Meretz parties, respectively, and would be reliant on the support of at least one of the majority-Arab parties. But according to reported offers from Lapid, currently tasked with forming a government, the coalition would be led initially by the pro-annexation Bennett for at least a year and a half before Lapid rotates into the position. It would also include the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu and New Hope parties along with the centrist Blue and White and Yesh Atid.

File: Then-finance minister Yair Lapid (left) and then-economy minister Naftali Bennett at the Manufacturers Association of Israel annual general assembly at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv, February 26, 2014. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash 90.)

Netanyahu said Bennett was refusing to sign unless Likud proves that it has a majority necessary to form a government, which it currently doesn’t have. But the premier insisted once again in the video that other parties would join once Yamina signs and cuts ties officially with Lapid and the change bloc.

Shas chairman Aryeh Deri made the same claim on Friday. He tweeted that “if Yamina signs an agreement with Likud, a 65-member right-wing government will be formed immediately,” suggesting that New Hope’s 6 MKs would follow Bennett’s lead.

Yamina announced earlier this month that it was ending talks with the change bloc, claiming that the Islamist Ra’am party, which would likely be needed in some capacity to form the alternative government, would not be able to sign off on the tough policies necessary to put an end to the Arab-Jewish violence that has plagued mixed-cities throughout the country in recent weeks.

But Netanyahu responded by diminishing his offer to Yamina, and as a result, Bennett in recent days has slowly made his way back to negotiations with Lapid, while initially denying that was the case.

Netanyahu in his video statement tore into Bennett for the apparent flip-flop. “We just came out of the war, a military campaign. And it was clear during the struggle that Hamas could not be fought by a left-wing government. It is impossible to fight the rioters inside the country with a left-wing government. It is impossible to protect IDF soldiers from being prosecuted as war criminals at The Hague with a left-wing government. Calls now for the establishment of a Palestinian state and the division of Jerusalem with a left-wing government cannot be avoided.”

Yamina did not issue any response to Netanyahu’s video.

Bennett is an ardent opponent of establishing a Palestinian state and Lapid has long dismissed the idea of dividing Jerusalem in a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu claimed that forming a “left-wing government” is “against all the principles, all the promises, all the things that are important to secure our country. It is impossible to do such a thing.”

He tore into Bennett for breaking his promise to voters not to join a government led by Lapid.

Netanyahu himself is relying on the support of parties that vowed not to join a government led by him to keep slim coalition chances alive, particularly New Hope, led by former Likud minister Sa’ar.

Sa’ar has called Netanyahu a danger to the state of Israel, but on Friday Likud made a Hail Mary offer to New Hope, offering a rotation in which Sa’ar would serve as premier first, in addition to legislation that would implement term limits on the premiership, Channel 12 reported.

Netanyahu needs both Yamina and New Hope to join his nascent coalition, along with hardliners Religious Zionism, ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Shas.

According to Channel 12, Likud believes a Lapid-Bennett deal is all but done and that an unprecedented offer to New Hope could be the only thing that stops it, though Sa’ar has repeatedly rejected such proposals in the past.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, left, meets with Labor leader Merav Michaeli in the Knesset on April 19, 2021. (Knesset spokesperson’s office)

Lapid, meanwhile, spent Friday inking a deal with Merav Michaeli’s Labor, considered a natural partner for his bloc. According to Yesh Atid, Labor would receive the transportation, public security, and diaspora affairs ministries. The first two will likely go to Michaeli and Labor No. 2 Omer Bar Lev. Michaeli will also serve on the Knesset’s Judicial Appointments Committee and her party will have two members in the security cabinet.

Yesh Atid has also inked deals with Meretz and Yisrael Beytenu that would make Meretz chair Nitzan Horowitz the next health minister and Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman the next finance minister. Lapid is also in talks with New Hope with an offer to make Sa’ar the next justice minister reportedly being offered.

Haaretz reported that Yesh Atid has also reached agreements with members of the change bloc which would grant the right-wing flank of New Hope and Yamina veto power over all government decisions related to judicial reform. This would be a major victory for Bennett and Sa’ar, whose parties have vowed to change the manner in which judges are appointed and have also sought to bring additional conservatives justices to the bench. Earlier this week, Hebrew media reported that Blue and White was demanding the same veto power in order to prevent such reforms.

Lapid has until June 2 to form a coalition. If he does not, President Reuven Rivlin can ask the Knesset to task a candidate, but given Netanyahu’s repeated failures to garner enough support for a government, most believe the Knesset will instead call a new round of elections, Israel’s fifth in some two years.

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