Former justice minister and Yamina No. 3 Ayelet Shaked on Thursday slammed apparent concessions made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in coalition talks with Blue and White, saying that if he went too far and “broke up the bloc” of right-wing and religious parties supporting him, Yamina would fight the new unity government from the benches of the opposition.
Shaked spoke in an interview with Channel 12 news shortly after reports broke that Blue and White was set to receive control of the Education Ministry — a portfolio held by Yamina since 2015. She said such a move would be seen as a betrayal.
“We have been following Netanyahu faithfully for years because it is good for the rightist bloc,” Shaked said.
“But the rumors say that the things that are important to religious Zionism are being taken away from the right,” she warned. “Netanyahu needs to stand up to his commitments. He said the partnership of the bloc will not be harmed and we see that the ultra-Orthodox have not given anything up and have not been harmed. The religious Zionists, he chose to kick out.”
Warning that Netanyahu’s actions could spell the end of the bloc of right-wing and religious parties that have pledged their allegiance to the prime minister, Shaked added, “If [he] breaks up the bloc, we will be a right-wing combative opposition.”
Negotiations between the Likud and Blue and White parties reportedly restarted Thursday as the two sides sought to work out the final details of their coalition agreement, which would result in the first fully functional government in roughly a year and a half.
Channel 12 reported that the main sticking points in the talks remain unresolved, however, including final agreement on who will serve as justice minister and as Knesset speaker, as well as the issue of unilateral annexation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley, which Likud and parts of its bloc support and which Blue and White does not.
In recent days, the two sides have gone back and forth on the position of justice minister, with Blue and White demanding its MK Avi Nissenkorn take the role, while the Likud wants Blue and White MK Chili Tropper to take it.
Likud has also been pushing for Yuli Edelstein to resume his position of Knesset speaker, after he left the role, flouting a Supreme Court order for him to hold a vote on his replacement. The Blue and White party has refused to have Edelstein return, with some in the faction seeing his actions as anti-democratic. Minister Yariv Levin has been floated as a possible replacement for him.
While the two parties are expected to eventually reach a compromise on these posts, the larger contentions is over West Bank annexation, with Likud — pushed by Yamina, with its six seats — demanding that this be a prerequisite for forming a government, while Blue and White opposes unilateral annexation, calling instead for any move to expand Israeli sovereignty to be negotiated with the Palestinians.
Shaked on Thursday said Netanyahu needed to prove that his government would stick to “basic right-wing principles.”
“Netanyahu pledged to apply sovereignty in a few months; there is [also] an economy to rescue and we see that two former heads of the Histadrut [Labor union are to] receive the economic portfolios,” she said.
Channel 12 quoted sources close to Netanyahu as saying in response that “Yamina’s hysteria is unfounded. They come with unrealistic demands. The other parties who are bigger than them are getting two ministers. Netanyahu intends to look after them and put them in the government. Contrary to the rumors, he has no intention of breaking up the bloc.”
In response, Yamina said that it was “not part of Netanyahu and [Blue and White leader Benny] Gantz’s game of musical chairs” and stressed that “the one who will be responsible for the breakup of the block is Netanyahu.”
The Likud then hit back at the right-wing party, saying “the disgraceful message of Yamina proves that for jobs they are ready to join the Joint List and the far left to overthrow Prime Minister Netanyahu, in stark contrast to their promise to their voters and contrary to the election of national camp voters.”
Various unconfirmed reports earlier in the week said that in the emerging unity government, Yamina would be cut down from three current minister positions — Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Education Minister Rafi Peretz — to one or two.
A flurry of reports on Sunday suggested that the Likud, Yamina, United Torah Judaism and Shas parties, which are negotiating in coalition talks with Blue and White as a single bloc, were going to get at least 15 ministries in total in the new government.
According to those reports, the imminent deal would also see the 15-member Blue and White — possibly joined by three members of Labor and Gesher (Amir Peretz, Itzik Shmuli and Orly Levy-Abekasis) and by Telem MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, formerly of Blue and White — receive a similar number of cabinet portfolios, meaning almost every MK in Gantz’s party would become a minister.
The unity talks came after Gantz, in a shock move, was elected Knesset speaker last Thursday, setting the stage for a coalition with Netanyahu and leading to the splintering of the Blue and White alliance, which had campaigned during the three elections over the past year on ousting Netanyahu, due to his indictment on graft charges.