Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday publicly called on his two right-wing rivals, Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett and New Hope party chief Gideon Sa’ar, to bring their parties into a coalition led by his Likud party.
In the first public appearance since last week’s inconclusive election, Netanyahu urged the two other party leaders to “put our difference behind us” and “come home” to the right-wing nationalist bloc that he leads in the Knesset.
Sa’ar immediately rejected the offer, maintaining he would not enter a coalition led by Netanyahu.
Bennett’s party said he would do what is best for Israel’s citizens and brushed off a television report on Wednesday night that said Likud offered to fold Yamina into Netanyahu’s party.
“The people have spoken,” Netanyahu said in a primetime press conference, referring to last week’s election. “The people demand we need to sit together.”
If both parties join Likud and its right-wing religious allies they could form a majority coalition of 65 seats, putting an end to years of political turmoil, Netanyahu noted. Such a government could be established immediately, the prime minister continued, predicting that any coalition formed to replace him as prime minister will be left-wing and quickly fall.
Before the election, both Sa’ar and Bennett had vowed to replace Netanyahu as premier. However, the inconclusive results mean that neither Netanyahu nor the bloc of parties seeking to oust him have a majority in the Knesset.
Sa’ar, a former Likud minister who left the party to set up New Hope, swiftly responded with a clear rejection of Netanyahu’s proposal.
“On the very same day that he and his people again spread delusional and false conspiracy theories about me and the president, Netanyahu approaches me that I join him,” he tweeted. “I will carry out my commitment to my voters. I will not join and I will not support a government led by Netanyahu. The continuation of Netanyahu’s term, which prioritizes his personal benefit over the benefit of the country, harms Israel.”
The Yamina party said in a statement that “Bennett will continue to make every effort to establish a good and stable government that will extract Israel from the chaos.”
Earlier in the day, Likud lawmakers attacked President Reuven Rivlin accusing him of being in cahoots with the prime minister’s rivals, specifically Sa’ar, after the president urged the various party leaders to engage in “out-of-the-ordinary coalitions, collaborations that cross sectors” in order to break the extended political deadlock.
The president is set to begin consultations with the political parties on Monday, following last week’s national election, the fourth in two years. On Wednesday, he is expected to task a candidate with forming a government.
According to a Channel 12 report on Wednesday night, Likud has extended a lavish offer to Yamina in an effort to persuade Bennett’s party to recommend Netanyahu be tapped with forming the next government.
The offer includes seven spots on Likud’s list for all seven Yamina lawmakers — meaning Bennett’s party would effectively be dissolved into Likud. This is something that Bennett and his No. 2 Ayelet Shaked have long sought, but that Netanyahu’s wife Sara has reportedly blocked for years due to her personal loathing of the two lawmakers, the network said.
The reserved spots would be promised in the next two election cycles, following which Yamina lawmakers would be promised senior positions in the governments that are subsequently formed, according to Channel 12.
In response to the report, Yamina said Bennett was “concerned about Israel’s citizens, not placements on political lists.”
Sa’ar was reportedly working to broker an alternate coalition that would see Bennett rotate the premiership with MK Yair Lapid whose Yesh Atid party, with 17 seats, is the second-largest behind Netanyahu’s Likud that has 30. Such an agreement envisions Bennett serving as prime minister first.
Both Sa’ar and Bennett have expressed reluctance at backing Lapid as prime minister.
Bennett, whose Yamina party won seven seats, has not yet said how he will act in light of the election results. New Hope won six seats in the 120-seat Knesset.
According to a Channel 12 report on Wednesday, Lapid has passed along a message to the Yamina party that he is prepared to accept a scenario in which Bennett will be prime minister, so long as he agrees to first pledge that he will not join a Netanyahu government. That report did not specify whether Lapid is willing to split the premiership with Bennett in a rotational capacity or whether Bennett would be the sole prime minister. Both sides are hesitant to be the first to move on the deal, Channel 12 said.