Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right ally Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionism party, suggested Saturday it could be time for the prime minister to go, over what he deemed to be a feeble response from Netanyahu to the ongoing unrest in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu on Saturday called for “calm on all sides” after several nights of clashes and chaos in East Jerusalem.
Posting a video from Friday night of the beating of an Israeli man by a Palestinian mob, Smotrich tweeted: “Tell me, after countless terror incidents and lynchings by the Arab enemy in recent days, and after a rocket barrage from Gaza on southern communities, did Netanyahu seriously call this evening to “calm the spirits on all sides???
“Maybe it really is time to replace him.”
תגידו, אחרי אין ספור אירועי טרור ולינצ'ים של האויב הערבי בימים האחרונים ואחרי מטח טילים מעזה לישובי הדרום נתניהו אשכרה קרא הערב "להרגיע את הרוחות מכל הצדדים"???
יכול להיות שבאמת הגיע הזמן להחליף אותו. pic.twitter.com/oZFvCGj6Oh
— בצלאל סמוטריץ' (@bezalelsm) April 24, 2021
Netanyahu’s Likud party said in response: “After the prime minister and Likud contributed three seats to Religious Zionism and reserved them another seat [on Likud’s slate], and since Smotrich is not a party to security assessments, it would be best for him to show humility and gratitude and not lash out at the prime minister.”
On Sunday morning, extremist Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir, leader of the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit faction, told the Kan public broadcaster that Netanyahu’s statement was a “disgrace.”
“I don’t want to oust Netanyahu, I want to form a government with him,” Ben Gvir said when asked about Smotrich’s comment. “On the other hand, his remarks were uncalled for, there is no equivalence. They are lynching Jews, harming Jews and Netanyahu is staying silent — in my view, that’s a disgrace.”
Netanyahu brokered the arrangement by which Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit ran in March’s elections as part of Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party, a deal that helped ensure Religious Zionism cleared the 3.25% threshold and made it into the Knesset.
Meanwhile, Likud’s constitutional committee was set to convene Sunday to review Netanyahu’s request to allow him, in the event of new elections, to merge Likud with others for a joint run.
Analysts in Hebrew media posited the move was intended to send a message to Yamina and New Hope that they could yet ally with him for a potential fifth election — though such a move is unlikely.
Smotrich has been a key ally of the prime minister as the latter attempts to form a new government following the March 23 election. However, Smotrich has also blocked him from doing so by refusing to go along with Netanyahu’s plan to form a minority government with the outside backing of Islamist party Ra’am.
Smotrich and his party have accused the anti-Zionist Ra’am of being supporters of terrorism and have said they will not cooperate with the party under any circumstances.
That position has likely doomed Netanyahu’s efforts, 10 days before his mandate to form a coalition expires, as he currently has the support of only 59 of the Knesset’s 120 members, even if Naftali Bennett’s 7-seat Yamina is included.
Bennett said Friday that he was involved in intensive efforts and countless meetings to set up a national unity government, and had been working on this since coming to the conclusion that Netanyahu “has no intention” of making the necessary compromises to establish a right-wing government. He said he was by no means certain that the unity efforts would actually bear fruit.
Bennett, who has repeatedly said he prefers a right-wing government led by Netanyahu, wrote in a Facebook post that he was now focusing his efforts on setting up a government with the so-called “change bloc” of parties that oppose Netanyahu.
Netanyahu has repeatedly tried to tarnish the diverse group of parties opposing him as radical leftists, but Bennett wrote that any government that would be established would be no further left than previous Netanyahu governments.
“A national unity government won’t fulfill all my dreams, but it won’t be less right-wing than governments Netanyahu formed with Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni or Avi Nissenkorn,” he wrote.
He conceded that a unity government would not achieve his long-held goals of annexing parts of the West Bank or carrying out judicial reforms. “But it won’t give up land either,” he said.
Bennett also said if a right-wing government was so important to Netanyahu he could step aside and let someone else on the right or in Likud form the government, which would bring in Likud-breakaway Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party and give the right a majority.
But, Bennett said, Netanyahu was bent on taking Israel to “a 5th, 6th and 7th election.”