Likud says Shaked made a 'mistake' by taking issue public

Raining on Netanyahu plan, Yamina says united right-wing front isn’t a done deal

Shaked says 55-member bloc for coalition talks is just a ‘vague idea’; Smotrich hints party will demand a commitment not to form government with Gantz

Ayelet Shaked (R), then-leader of the New Right party that is part of the Yamina political alliance, flanked by then-Jewish Home candidate Moti Yogev (L), National Union party leader Bezalel Smotrich (2nd-L), and Jewish Home party leader Rafi Peretz (C) at the alliance's headquarters in Ramat Gan, September 17, 2019. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)
Ayelet Shaked (R), then-leader of the New Right party that is part of the Yamina political alliance, flanked by then-Jewish Home candidate Moti Yogev (L), National Union party leader Bezalel Smotrich (2nd-L), and Jewish Home party leader Rafi Peretz (C) at the alliance's headquarters in Ramat Gan, September 17, 2019. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

Senior members of the Yamina party on Thursday cast doubt on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement a day earlier of a united front of right-wing and religious parties ahead of coalition talks, with its leader, Ayelet Shaked, saying that bloc was “still just a vague idea.”

Right-wing and ultra-Orthodox political leaders rallied around Netanyahu Wednesday, agreeing to present the united front after they jointly came up short of winning enough seats in Tuesday’s elections to form a new majority government.

With almost all votes counted, the Orthodox/right-wing bloc has 55 seats, the centrist/left/Arab bloc has 57, and Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman holds the balance of power with eight.

Netanyahu met at his office with United Torah Judaism party heads Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni, as well as Shaked, Rafi Peretz, Bezalel Smotrich and Naftali Bennett of Yamina. He met earlier in the day with Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

A spokesman for the premier’s Likud party said the party chiefs had decided to set up a joint negotiation team for coalition talks and act as a “single right-wing bloc” moving forward. The alliance would aim to prevent the unity coalition composed of Likud, Blue and White, and Yisrael Beytenu that Liberman is pushing and that Blue and White leader Benny Gantz would seek to head.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with right-wing and Haredi faction leaders at his office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2019. (Courtesy Likud)

But Shaked, speaking with the Kan public broadcaster on Thursday, said: “Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc is an interesting idea, but it is not a done deal. We will have to make sure our interests are represented.”

“I would have preferred if we had 61 seats,” Shaked said. “We didn’t manage that — what can we do? I have no problem with [Labor-Gesher leader] Amir Peretz or Blue and White joining — I don’t rule that out. It’s better than going to elections.”

She added that Liberman, whose refusal to join a right-wing Netanyahu government following elections in April led to this week’s vote, “can also join the government, definitely.”

Yamina’s No. 3, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, similarly cast doubt on the premier’s plan a few minutes later, releasing a statement listing some of the party’s conditions for joining Netanyahu’s bloc — which apparently includes a commitment not to ditch Yamina later to form a unity government with Blue and White.

“We will demand signing coalition agreements with at least general guidelines,” Smotrich said. “We can’t serve as a bridge, providing a bloc of support and recommendation to the president, when that may be channeled to a government with Benny Gantz.

“We are taking into account every scenario, including one where [US President] Donald Trump’s peace plan is unveiled, Gantz will say it compels him to enter [the coalition] and we and the ultra-Orthodox will be excluded,” he said.

Shaked and Smotrich made the public comments shortly before 9:30 a.m., when a followup meeting began between the right-wing party heads.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Likud MK Miki Zohar at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset on February 26, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

That angered Likud, whose lawmaker Miki Zohar told the Knesset Channel: “That is an unnecessary headline, a mistake by Ayelet Shaked. People have demands and when they aren’t accepted in their entirety, they blow up” their own house.

During Wednesday’s press conference, Netanyahu had presented the united front as a done deal.

“Now that we have established the right-wing bloc, there are only two options: A government led by me, or a dangerous government that relies on the Arab parties,” Netanyahu said.

“At this time, more than ever, especially in the face of the huge security and political challenges at hand, a government that relies on the anti-Zionist Arab parties must not be established. Every effort must be made to prevent such a dangerous government,” he added.

“The national camp will move forward together and, with God’s help, we will establish a strong, Zionist and good government for the State of Israel together,” he said.

When it was put to him by a reporter that he doesn’t have the 61 MKs needed to muster a majority, Netanyahu refused to respond, and Likud MK David Amsalem, the outgoing coalition chairman sitting next to the prime minister, said he would not be answering questions.

Prior to the Wednesday sit-down with Netanyahu, Hebrew media reports said the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties would demand the Likud leader commit to not forming a coalition without them in exchange for acting as a unified bloc and recommending him as prime minister.

An official from one of the parties said that such a united bloc would increase the right’s chances of forming the next government, the Walla news site reported.

Photo composition (L to R): Blue and White chief Benny Gantz, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Yonatan Sindel, Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

While not enough to form a coalition on its own, Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu is hoping that President Reuven Rivlin will consider the 55-seat bloc as a single party and therefore agree to task Netanyahu with forming the next government because he has a bigger faction than the Blue and White party.

With most votes counted, Gantz’s Blue and White and the left-wing bloc edged slightly ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud and the right-wing bloc. As it stands, neither party can realistically form a coalition government without each other or Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, who as kingmaker has vowed he will force a unity government of Likud and Blue and White.

Yamina announced it would break into three factions Tuesday night, minutes after exit polls showed the party comfortably sliding into the Knesset. Faction leader Shaked informed Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein in a letter that the right-wing party was splitting back into New Right and Jewish Home as originally planned before the joint Knesset run. Shaked and Bennett will remain together as leaders of New Right party, while Rafi Peretz will lead the Jewish Home party.

Speaking to reporters at Yamina headquarters in Ramat Gan, Shaked said even though the parties were splitting up, they would negotiate a coalition agreement as a single bloc.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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