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TV: Lapid, Bennett had planned to announce they had a gov't

Ra’am freezes coalition talks with ‘change bloc,’ amid violence

Source in Islamist party says unclear if negotiations will resume before Lapid’s mandate to form coalition expires; anti-Netanyahu parties call for forceful response to attacks

Ra'am party leader Mansour Abbas speaks during a press conference in Nazareth, April 1, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Ra'am party leader Mansour Abbas speaks during a press conference in Nazareth, April 1, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Islamist Ra’am party on Monday announced it was suspending coalition talks with the “change bloc” of anti-Netanyahu parties after Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a barrage of rockets toward Jerusalem and southern Israeli border communities, in a potentially major blow to the efforts by parties opposed to Netanyahu to form a government.

A Ra’am source told the Kan public broadcaster that it was unclear if the party would again hold talks with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid — who is currently tasked with forming a government — before his mandate to assemble a coalition ends on June 2, as the resumption of negotiations would depend on the scope of the violence.

A Channel 13 report claimed Lapid and Yamina chief Naftali Bennett had intended to tell President Reuven Rivlin on Monday night that they had managed to muster a coalition, which would have relied on support from Ra’am for its majority, and that it would be sworn-in next week.

Channel 12 reported that almost all ministerial appointments in the putative Bennett-Lapid coalition had been agreed upon by the various parties. These included Bennett to serve as prime minister with Lapid as alternate PM and foreign minister (with Lapid to later serve as PM under a rotation deal); Benny Gantz as defense minister; Avigor Liberman as finance minister; Ayelet Shaked as interior minister; Gideon Sa’ar as justice minister; Merav Michaeli as transportation minister, and Nitzan Horowitz as health minister.

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas was scheduled to meet with Lapid and Bennett before the rocket fire, but the meeting was delayed, apparently due to the major clashes that broke out in the morning between Palestinian rioters and police on the Temple Mount — clashes followed hours later by the rocket barrages.

Jerusalem has been at the center of escalating Israeli-Palestinian tensions that have also seen attacks in the Gaza border area and West Bank.

Palestinians terrorists fire rockets from Gaza City toward Israel on May 10, 2021. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Lapid, Bennett and other “change bloc” lawmakers, meanwhile, backed a forceful response to the Gaza rocket fire.

“No country can allow citizens to live under the threat of terror,” Lapid tweeted. “Israel must act resolutely and forcefully to restore deterrence.”

Lapid also vowed to back the Netanyahu-led transition government “in the war against Israel’s enemies.”

Bennett, who is holding talks with Lapid on forming a government that will see the two switch off as premier, called for Israel to respond with an “iron fist.”

“Whoever puts Israelis into shelters needs to know he will regret this,” Bennett wrote on Twitter. “We’ll back a determined response by the Israeli government.”

Yamina No. 2 Shaked linked the rocket fire from Gaza to the government’s response to recent violence on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City.

“Whoever surrenders on the Temple Mount in the first campaign will get rockets on Jerusalem in the second campaign. It’s either firmness or weakness,” she wrote on Twitter.

Palestinians place Hamas flags atop al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 10, 2021. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

New Hope chief Sa’ar, who is also in negotiations with Lapid and Bennett, similarly issued a tweet calling for a strong response to “Hamas aggression,” referring to the Gaza-ruling terror organization.

“We’ll back decisions of the government that will lead to this,” he said.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Liberman, who resigned as Netanyahu’s defense minister in 2018 to protest what he said was an insufficiently forceful response to rocket fire from Gaza, tore into the prime minister.

“Once again, it has been proven that Netanyahu’s resolution policy is language whitewashing a policy of surrendering to terror that brings painful consequences,” Liberman wrote on Twitter, referring to the efforts to reach a long-term ceasefire with Hamas.

He added: “Now we must focus on restoring security to the State of Israel and putting the issue at the top of the agenda.”

Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar appeared to imply that Netanyahu, who is fighting for his political and legal survival, had an interest in the escalating violence and called on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to declare the premier no longer fit to remain in office.

“The man is a pyromaniac. He is not fit and not in control of the situation,” Avidar said.

Palestinian terrorists fire rockets from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, May 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Among Netanyahu’s supporters, Likud MK Miki Zohar suggested the premier’s rivals were to blame for trying to form a unity government after the prime minister again failed to assemble a narrow right-wing coalition, after a fourth election in two years.

“I’m concerned that the political chaos in Israel, along with the progress on forming a left-wing government with the support or abstention of the [majority Arab] Joint List, is allowing our enemies to lift their heads. I hope Bennett will understand the destruction he is leading us to,” Zohar told Army Radio.

He did not mention the Likud-led right-wing religious bloc’s own unsuccessful efforts to enlist the Islamist Ra’am party, which both sides have been courting to secure majority support for their prospective coalitions.

Zohar also claimed a ground operation in Gaza was not a question of “if,” but “when.”

Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich, whose far-right party’s opposition to relying on Ra’am blocked Netanyahu from forming such a government, issued a fresh appeal to Bennett and Sa’ar to join forces with the premier’s bloc.

“Put everything aside and let’s form an emergency government of the national camp today. Everything else can wait,” Smotrich tweeted.

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