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Senior Likud officials admit Netanyahu can’t form alternate government

Party sources say it can’t get enough voters to attain 61-seat majority, only hope is for new right-wing party to draw those unhappy with Bennett and Sa’ar

Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to right-wing opposition party members a day after a new government was sworn in, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to right-wing opposition party members a day after a new government was sworn in, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Following last week’s passage of the 2021-2022 national budget, senior Likud party officials have admitted that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chances of bringing down the government and forming an alternate coalition have crumbled.

According to sources from Netanyahu’s party quoted by Zman Yisrael, the Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site, on Monday, he has zero chance of toppling the government via a vote of no-confidence, which would require him to present an alternate government backed by at least 61 Knesset members. To do so, he would have to gain the backing of and join forces with the predominantly Arab Joint List party, and/or persuade a large group of coalition lawmakers to jump ship.

At the same time, while Likud has been polling as high as 36 seats (in polls taken before the budget was passed), well ahead of any other party, surveys still show Netanyahu failing to gain the backing of a Knesset majority if new elections were held.

The Knesset passed Israel’s 2022 budget early Friday morning, clearing the complex legislation’s last hurdle and capping a major success for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s unlikely ruling alliance of eight ideologically disparate parties. The 2021 budget was approved early Thursday.

Failure to pass the 2021 budget before November 14 would have resulted in the dissolution of the government and snap elections, the fifth in three years.

The talk among senior Likud figures has therefore turned to the possibility of setting up a new right-wing party to run alongside Likud, with the hope of attracting voters from Bennett’s Yamina party, Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope and even Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White.

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Yuli Edelstein (center) and Yariv Levin at the Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on April 30, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Such a party, they say, would aim to draw a similar electorate as that of the now-defunct Kulanu headed by former finance minister Moshe Kahlon, with figures like Yamina rebel Amichai Chikli and right-wing media personality Yaakov Bardugo joining its ranks.

In such a scenario, they hope, the new right-wing party would change the electoral map and, by backing Netanyahu to be prime minister, help Likud muster the 61 seats needed.

“This is the only choice we have left, if we want to stay with Netanyahu,” a senior Likud official told Zman Yisrael. “The talk of hundreds of thousands of Likud members remaining at home [in the previous elections] is incorrect. The numbers are much lower, and even if they come, we have no government.”

Chikli, who voted against the establishment of the coalition in June, also voted with the opposition on every single vote during the marathon process of approving the budget. The votes would have caused the government to fall if another single coalition member had switched sides, since Chikli’s rebellion reduced the coalition to 61 lawmakers in the 120-seat Knesset, the slimmest majority possible.

Netanyahu is widely believed to have torpedoed the previous budget efforts last year, under his power-sharing government with Gantz, in order to bring down that coalition and avoid passing the premiership on to Gantz as had been agreed between the two as part of their short-lived deal.

That fight led directly to the collapse of the last government and the most recent election, the results of which saw Netanyahu ousted from the prime minister’s office.

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