With his prospects of forming a government in doubt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday called upon longtime political rival Gideon Sa’ar, the leader of the New Hope party, to join a coalition with Likud in order to allow the formation of a right-wing government.
“This is your home, you will be welcomed with open arms,” Netanyahu wrote to Sa’ar.
Sa’ar, a former Likud minister, campaigned on a pledge not to join a government led by the incumbent prime minister and has so far rebuffed Netanyahu’s appeals to scrap the promise.
“Likud is your home. You grew up in this home. This is not the time to form a left-wing government,” Netanyahu said in his appeal to the New Hope leader.
Netanyahu also urged Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and Religious Zionism head Betzalel Smotrich to “put all considerations aside” and “establish the right-wing and national government Israel so desperately needs.”
Even with Bennett and Smotrich, Netanyahu would still be two Knesset seats short of a majority in parliament. He would thus need support either from someone like Sa’ar (an improbable scenario) or the tacit backing of the Islamist Ra’am party from outside the coalition — a move Ra’am has indicated it would be amenable to, in return for clear gains for his constituents.
But Religious Zionism has repeatedly ruled out the latter scenario, and Smotrich reiterated on Friday his rejection of Ra’am, saying that he “will not give in to the suicide of the right” that would establish a government “dependant on anti-Zionist terrorism supporters, and make us all hostages.”
He also said that “if Likud fails to form a national government, it will be because [Netanyahu] has wasted the precious days of his mandate heading in dangerous and utterly hopeless directions.”
On Wednesday, Smotrich called upon Netanyahu and Sa’ar, to “sort out their differences” in order to establish a new government.
“If you do not know how to get along with each other, the decision will go to your enemies, the supporters of terrorism, who deny the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state,” Smotrich wrote to them both, apparently referring to Ra’am and the Joint List.
With Netanyahu lacking a clear majority following the March 23 election, multiple — and mostly improbable — scenarios have been floated on how to reach the magic number of 61, including relying on outside support from Ra’am, despite opposition from far-right lawmakers including Smotrich; trying to recruit “defectors” from other parties; and trying to get the New Hope party to join such a coalition.
If Netanyahu does not succeed in forming a government by May 4 and President Reuven Rivlin does not grant him an extension, the latter can either task a second person with the attempt (for another period of 28 days and a possible additional 14), or send the mandate back to the Knesset, giving the legislature 21 days to agree on a candidate supported by 61 MKs.
If the president appoints a second person and that person also fails to assemble a coalition, the mandate automatically returns to the Knesset for the 21-day period. During that time, any MK is eligible to attempt to form a government.
Rivlin has indicated that he may not give the mandate to a second candidate if Netanyahu fails, but rather immediately send it back to the Knesset. He also appears unlikely to grant an extension to Netanyahu before doing so.
At the end of the 21-day period, if no candidate has been agreed upon by 61 MKs, the new Knesset automatically disbands and the country heads to yet another election.