The New Hope and Yamina parties both reportedly rejected the idea that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would leave office in order to pave the way for the two parties to join with his Likud party instead of with the so-called “change bloc,” saying it was a deception.
Sources in both New Hope and Yamina spurned the suggestion, Army Radio reported Monday.
“This is a trick. For weeks he hasn’t moved from his spot and all of a sudden, a moment before the swearing-in, he does?” a New Hope source said.
A source in the Yamina party also dismissed the idea as “a trick.”
“Who would believe him?” the unnamed source said.
Rumors began to swirl following an exchange Sunday, picked up by Hebrew media, between Netanyahu and a lawmaker from his Likud party during its weekly faction meeting at the Knesset.
MK Ofir Katz told Netanyahu that New Hope members were “trying to drive a wedge between Likud and Netanyahu and are telling activists that they will return to Likud after Netanyahu moves,” an apparent reference to New Hope lawmakers who were formerly members of Likud, including party leader MK Gideon Sa’ar.
“Did you hear what he said?” Netanyahu responded. “Take the things that he said, put them in a box, lock it, and put the key aside for the time being.”
While it was not totally clear what Netanyahu meant by the remark, it was enough to prompt speculation that he may be considering leaving office in order to thwart the emerging so-called change government led by Yamina chief Naftali Bennett and MK Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid.
New Hope MK Yoaz Hendel told Channel 13 news on Sunday that the parties involved intend to establish the “change government” even if Netanyahu were to step down.
Several Likud leaders have been urging Netanyahu to step aside for a period amid arguments that the right-wing parties in the “change government” would happily establish a government with the Likud party if Netanyahu, its longtime leader, were out of the way.
But close associates of Netanyahu have said that the prime minister himself is against the idea and the chances that he would take such action are slim, the Walla news site reported Sunday.
Last week Finance Minister Israel Katz said that a number of weeks ago he suggested to Netanyahu that the prime minister step down for a period of a year in order to enable the establishment of a government with right-wing parties. Katz said that Netanyahu rejected the offer.
The leaders of the eight parties that make up the new prospective government met in Tel Aviv on Sunday for the first time since last week’s announcement that they had succeeded in forming a coalition.
Yet it is still unclear when a vote to confirm the government will be held as Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a Likud lawmaker, has not yet scheduled a date. In addition, there reportedly remain some disagreements between the member parties of the coalition that will need to be resolved before it is sworn in.
Should the change government be confirmed by the Knesset it would end more than 12 consecutive years of rule under Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.