Left-wing politicians say coalition with Bennett an option

‘Not on my watch’: Smotrich rules out cooperation with Islamist Ra’am party

Religious Zionism head calls on Bennett and Sa’ar to ‘enter a right-wing government,’ further narrows Netanyahu’s already slim prospects for building a majority coalition

Religious Zionism head MK Bezalel Smotrich in Modiin, March 23, 2021 (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)
Religious Zionism head MK Bezalel Smotrich in Modiin, March 23, 2021 (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich on Thursday appeared to rule out any parliamentary cooperation with the Ra’am party, dismissing “irresponsible voices” that say a right-wing coalition could be built with the support of the Islamist party.

His comments further narrow Netanyahu’s already slim prospects for building a majority coalition.

“There will be no right-wing government based on Mansour Abbas’s Ra’am party. Period,” Smotrich wrote on Facebook. “The irresponsible voices of some right-wing elements in recent days who support such reliance… reflect dangerous confusion. Friends, get this out of your head. It will not come about, not on my watch.”

With most of the votes counted, neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing and religious allies nor the bloc opposing the Likud leader appear likely to have mustered a majority in Tuesday’s vote.

Smotrich’s comments came after a report said Netanyahu has not ruled out “parliamentary cooperation” with the Ra’am party.

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas and party members at the Ra’am headquarters in Tamra, March 23, 2021. (Flash90)

On Wednesday, both Ra’am and Smotrich’s far-right faction partner Itamar Ben Gvir ruled out joining forces with each other in a coalition, denting the already slim prospects that Netanyahu could form a razor-thin government after the fourth election in two years.

However, Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen of the ultra-Orthodox Shas on Thursday attacked those ruling out cooperation with the Islamist party.

Shas MK Yitzhak Cohen (Flash90)

“With huge courage, Ra’am made great changes and marched toward the right, and suddenly all those who always advocated cooperation attacked them,” Cohen told Army Radio. “Instead of bringing them in, they are pushing them out.”

Ra’am could potentially put either side over the 61-seat mark for a majority, but right-wing politicians, both in the pro-Netanyahu bloc and the anti-Netanyahu camp, have ruled out basing a coalition on the party’s support, due to what they say is its anti-Zionist stance.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to his supporters after the first exit poll results for the Israeli parliamentary elections, at his Likud party’s headquarters in Jerusalem, March. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, file)

Netanyahu himself has repeatedly ruled out sitting with Abbas in a coalition, saying that Ra’am was no different from the Arab-majority Joint List alliance — long considered a political pariah due to some of its members’ non-Zionist and anti-Zionist views.

But with Ra’am emerging as a potential kingmaker, Netanyahu may have to cooperate with it in some way to achieve a majority in the Knesset, though Likud members were publicly split over a possible alliance with Abbas.

Abbas’s movement is the political wing of Israel’s Southern Islamic Movement; like Hamas, it is modeled on the Muslim Brotherhood. Abbas has in the past praised aspects of Hamas’s 2017 charter, although he also criticized the document for not ending the targeting of Israeli civilians by the terrorist group.

Smotrich, in his comments Thursday, also called on Yamina’s Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar of New Hope to “put personal matters aside and enter a right-wing government.”

“They can and should set… demands that will make this government truly right-wing — in law, settlement, security, Jewish identity, expulsion of infiltrators, the economy, and more. Religious Zionism will of course back them up with these demands, and I am convinced that so will the ultra-Orthodox parties,” Smotrich said.

Then-MKs Gideon Sa’ar, right, and Naftali Bennett in the Knesset plenum on February 24, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Bennett has refused to say whether he will sit in a government with Netanyahu, while Sa’ar is maintaining he will not join a coalition headed by the premier.

Meanwhile, Labor head Merav Michaeli said that although she wasn’t enthusiastic about the prospect of a coalition with Bennett, there may be need for a creative solution to break the impasse.

“It’s not my life’s dream to sit with Bennett in the coalition but with the understanding that a really great necessity for rebuilding the State of Israel is to replace Netanyahu as prime minister, one must be very creative,” she told Radio 103FM.

Labor head Merav Michaeli celebrates with supporters in Tel Aviv on March 23, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Michaeli stressed her commitment to talk about all the possibilities, with the understanding that focus would need to be placed on the areas that the sides can all agree upon.

“If it does help — because we do not yet know if Bennett is interested in replacing Netanyahu and is willing to do something about it –, then there will have to be a narrow consensus that will be mostly socioeconomic, and all the other things will have to wait to move forward,” she said.

Meretz MK Issawi Frej, meanwhile, said that he would not rule out sitting in a government under the right-wing Bennett, although he said that credit was due to Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid for his role as leader of the anti-Netanyahu bloc.

“I do not rule out anything. There is a purpose; let’s focus behind it. There is something called a compromise. We do not want a prime minister under indictment to run a government,” Frej told the Ynet news site.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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