‘Preparing for day after Netanyahu,’ Yamina says it will join opposition

Right-wing party, which had backed Likud leader, refuses to be part of what it calls ‘left-wing’ government’; slate accused of being motivated by cabinet seats, not ideology

Yamina leaders (left to right) Transportation Minister Betzalel Smotrich, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, former justice minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Rafi Peretz at the party's election-night headquarters in Ramat Gan on March 2, 2020. (Flash90)
Yamina leaders (left to right) Transportation Minister Betzalel Smotrich, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, former justice minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Rafi Peretz at the party's election-night headquarters in Ramat Gan on March 2, 2020. (Flash90)

The national religious Yamina party, a long-time ally of Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, announced Sunday that it will be heading to the opposition after its talks with the Likud party aimed at joining the “emergency” government fell apart over the weekend.

“In light of the composition of the [incoming] government and its emerging policies that appear to make it a left-wing government headed by Netanyahu, and in light of the prime minister’s blatant disrespect for Yamina and its voters, the Yamina party has decided to serve the public during the upcoming term from the opposition, where it will fight on behalf of the nationalist camp,” Yamina said in a statement.

“The decision was made after repeated attempts to reach agreements in the coalition negotiations with Likud and Prime Minister Netanyahu, who chose to dismantle the right-wing bloc and his partnership with Yamina,” the party said.

Completing a remarkable turnaround that will see him retain the premiership for at least the next 18 months, Netanyahu was endorsed Thursday as prime minister by 72 Knesset members, paving the way for him to finalize the coalition agreement with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz and swear in his new government. Yamina’s six MKs, despite vowing throughout the three election campaign to back Netanyahu, were not among the signatories.

The new government is set to be sworn in on Wednesday, without Yamina.

“Yamina will prepare for the day after Netanyahu, which will come in a year and a half, and from the opposition produce a real, right-wing alternative,” the statement from the party added tersely. “A right wing that is not ready to sell the justice system to the left for personal survival; a right wing that is unwilling to back down against Hamas and [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen; a right wing that is truly committed to the development and legalization of settlement; a right wing that does not sell Judaism to special interests or the Israeli economy to [Labor leader] Amir Peretz and the Histadrut labor union; a right wing that does not throw in the towel in the struggle to remove infiltrators and rehabilitate neighborhoods [that have experienced an influx of them].”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with Israeli minister of defense and leader of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett during a meeting with the heads of the right-wing parties, following the elections, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The party said it will fight the government from the opposition, but will do so “responsibly.” This means voting in favor of West Bank annexation while opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state, it said.

According to the April 20 unity deal between Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Gantz, the Likud leader may begin advancing legislation on annexation — within the context of the Trump plan and its envisioning of the establishment of a semi-autonomous, contiguous Palestinian state — starting on July 1.

Responding to Yamina’s announcement, Likud issued a statement accusing the right-wing party of being more interested in winning ministerial positions than in ideology.

“If Yamina had been given another post, then they would have considered the government to be right-wing?” Likud asked sarcastically in a statement mocking Yamina for calling the incoming coalition “left-wing.”

“This will be the first government in the history of the country to [annex the West Bank], and it is unfortunate that Yamina will not be a part of it just because of internal rifts over the distribution of portfolios,” Likud said.

“We hope that Yamina will come to its senses, demonstrate some national responsibility and enter the government that will lead a historic move in the history of Zionism,” the ruling party concluded, referring to its annexation plans.

With Netanyahu ceding half of all cabinet positions to Gantz’s bloc, six-seat Yamina was only offered two ministries, even within what is set to be Israel’s largest cabinet ever.

According to the deal signed by Netanyahu and Gantz, the government of 32 ministers will be expanded to 36 after the six-month “emergency period” during the coronavirus crisis, leaving open the possibility of Yamina joining at a later date.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sign their unity government agreement on April 20, 2020. (GPO)

Last week, Bennett, who currently serves as defense minister in the transitional government, signaled interest in the coveted health portfolio, as Likud and Blue and White negotiators tussled over which party would hold the office in the emerging unity government.

“If Prime Minister Netanyahu offers me the Health Ministry and to manage the coronavirus campaign, I’ll rise to the mission,” Bennett wrote on Twitter.

Instead, Likud said it offered Yamina the education and Jerusalem portfolios.

(L-R) Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett, Bezalel Smotrich and Rafi Peretz announcing a merger between religious right-wing parties, to be called United Right, July 29, 2019. (Courtesy)

With just two ministries, the party would be stretched to keep its various factions happy. To hold itself together it must ensure its many parts feel they have a seat at at the cabinet table.

Earlier Sunday, Yamina MK Matan Kahana asserted that his party would not be fractured, dismissing an Army Radio report that said Likud was considering trying to force a split in the national religious party that would see Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich join the government while Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked headed to the opposition.

“There is no chance there will be a split. We are united and will stay together. The ideologically right-wing, religious Zionist party will, God willing, be inside the government and if not, then we’ll be together in the opposition,” he told 103 FM radio.

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