Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked on Monday met with Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas, whose Islamist party will likely have to throw its support behind the political factions opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, if the country is to swear in a new government.
There was no statement from either side on what Shaked and Abbas discussed.
Abbas has not yet committed to backing the government Yamina chief Naftali Bennett announced Sunday that he is seeking to form with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and the “change bloc” of anti-Netanyahu parties. Lacking a majority in the 120 seat Knesset between them, the factions will need Ra’am and/or part of the Joint List alliance of three predominantly Arab parties to win a vote of confidence in the would-be government.
During his meeting with Shaked, the Ra’am chief demanded that one of his party’s lawmakers be appointed deputy interior minister, according to the Haaretz daily. Shaked, who reports have indicated will be interior minister if the government if formed, was said to express fierce opposition to the demand.
As he left the meeting, Abbas was confronted by the father of Cadet Shir Hajaj, one of four soldiers killed in a 2017 ramming attack in Jerusalem. The father, Herzl Hajaj, accused Abbas of denouncing terrorism in Hebrew but expressing support for terrorists in Arabic. Abbas denied doing so.
ראינו את מנסור עבאס יוצא מפגישה עם איילת שקד וניגשתי ואמרתי לו שאנחנו יודעים שהוא מגנה בעיברית את המחבלים ובערבית הוא תומך בהם ואף מימן מאות עורכי דין לפורעים /מחבלים
מהפרעות והלינצים בחודש האחרון.
וממשלת הטרור שנרקמת אוכלת את הקשקושים שלו העיקר להקים ממשלה,
ואנחנו נשלם בדם. pic.twitter.com/lPBotPO3Pl
— הרצל חג'אג' (@herzelhajaj) May 31, 2021
Bennett has previously held talks with Abbas, after both Yamina and Ra’am emerged as potential kingmakers in the wake of the March 23 elections. Both parties are seen as vulnerable if a government is not ultimately formed and new elections are called, the fifth since April 2019.
Following the meeting, Ra’am also denied a report that one of its lawmakers would oppose the establishment of a government led by Bennett and Lapid. A statement from the party quoted MK Mazen Ghanaim denying the accusations.
“I am behind every decision taken by Ra’am… for those looking for a scoop or political gain, I say: not on Mazen Ghanaim’s shoulders,” he said.
Separately, Hebrew media reports said Shaked has been conditioning her support for a Bennett-Lapid government on her being given a spot reserved for a cabinet minister on the Judicial Appointments Committee. The spot is currently slated to go to Merav Michaeli, leader of the left-wing Labor party.
Asked about the ultimatum in an interview with Channel 12, Yamina MK Matan Kahane refused to comment directly but said the committee was very important to the party. He also said Shaked fully backs Bennett.
Shaked has yet to publicly comment since Bennett declared he would seek to form a government with Netanyahu’s rivals, saying it was the only alternative to further elections as the premier has no clear shot of assembling right-wing coalition.
“This isn’t an easy political event for me, but at the moment there’s no other choice. I made every effort to form a right-wing government and still haven’t said it’s hopeless,” Shaked was quoted by the Walla news site as telling associates.
She reportedly added: “If this is the last resort, I will back Bennett… and not drag Israel to fifth elections.”
The meeting with Abbas came as Shaked and Bennett come under heavy pressure from Netanyahu and his right-wing religious bloc to scraps plans for a government with the prime minister’s political opponents,.
Under the emerging rotation deal between Yamina and Yesh Atid, Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years before handing the reins to Lapid. Joining the coalition will be a mix of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties that refuse to join a government led by Netanyahu, who is on trial in three criminal cases.
While Netanyahu has claimed that if Bennett and Shaked join with him, a right-wing government can be formed, he has not detailed any viable path to securing a ruling majority. Far-right Religious Zionism leader Bezlalel Smotrich’s opposition to forming a coalition propped up by Ra’am prevented Netanyahu from forming a minority government made up of his bloc and Yamina. Bennett himself has rapped Netanyahu for cooperating with Ra’am on past occasions.
Amid the intense pressure on Bennett and Shaked, Hebrew media reported Monday that the Knesset Guard has raised the threat level around them to the second highest level, amid growing threats.
Among the reported security measures being taken are stationing guards at Bennett’s and Shaked’s homes, closely guarding their movements, and having police patrols in their neighborhoods.
The move came after the Shin Bet instructed the Knesset Guard and Israel Police to increase the security around the two, citing a rise in threats against them and Lapid, the Haaretz daily said.
Security officials are concerned of the possibility of protesters trying to enter their homes, throwing Molotov cocktails or even trying to attack the Yamina lawmakers or their family members, according to the newspaper.
On Monday evening, dueling protests were again held outside Shaked’s home in Tel Aviv, with some demonstrators who oppose Bennett’s intention to form a government with Lapid holding signs reading, “Leftist traitors.” There were also posters showing portraits of Bennett and Shaked with the slogan, “Lapid’s collaborators.”
Lapid’s mandate to form a government ends at midnight Wednesday. He has so far reached informal coalition agreements with Yisrael Beytenu, Meretz, and Labor, and is hoping to seal deals with Blue and White and New Hope in the next few days, though the coalition would likely only be voted on and sworn in next week. Likud and other parties opposed to the government are planning on using the intervening time to ratchet up pressure on right-wing MKs in a bid to get them to defect and torpedo the coalition.