Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked is reportedly working to put together an alternative government to avert the need for the country to head to the polls.
Shaked, whose right-wing party split from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bloc to join the opposition earlier this year, has held talks with Derech Eretz MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser in recent weeks in an attempt to cobble together a new religious-nationalist coalition with a razor-thin majority of 61 lawmakers, Army Radio reported Tuesday.
The report did not clarify how exactly Shaked planned to reach the number 61, but it would presumably include the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and UTJ, along with Likud, Yamina, Derech Eretz and an additional faction or renegade lawmakers willing to break away from other parties.
Sources close to the Derech Eretz lawmakers confirmed to the outlet that the talks had taken place.
The proposal, which would take advantage of the fact that Netanyahu is believed to not want to go to the polls immediately, would essentially replace senior coalition partner Blue and White with Yamina and Derech Eretz. Those two parties would be expected to attempt to extract significant concessions from Netanyahu, such as key ministerial roles.
The report said that Derech Eretz, which is part of the Blue and White-led centrist bloc within the coalition, has previously refused such offers and was expected to turn down the proposal on this occasion also.
Last week the party joined Blue and White and Labor in supporting a measure to dissolve the Knesset and call early elections, along with the opposition. Even without the measure, which must still pass through committee and three more Knesset readings, early elections will be called on December 23 if a budget impasse is not resolved by then.
According to the report, it was understood that Shaked initiated the talks with Derech Eretz without the knowledge of Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett.
Bennett, whose party has rocketed in polls to over 20 seats, is thought to be pushing for elections as soon as possible to take advantage of the momentum and give him a shot at the premiership.
Shaked strongly denied all elements of the report in a statement to Army Radio.
“The report is devoid of any basis,” she said. “An alternative coalition is not on the agenda. The best solution is elections. Political elements who fear elections are spreading this lie to pressure Blue and White to fold.”
Shaked said last month that her party was now “a leadership alternative” to Likud as people were tired of “the failing parties currently running the country.” Bennett “is able, worthy and needs to be the next prime minister,” she declared.
Army Radio noted that due to legislation drafted to allow Blue and White chief Benny Gantz to be alternate prime minister, Netanyahu could not initially be prime minister in the new coalition but rather it would need to be another MK before the current premier could resume the title.
Last week’s proposal to dissolve the Knesset passed in an initial plenum vote that heralded the likely end of the power-sharing coalition between Netanyahu and Gantz, which would result in springtime elections.
But Likud is presumed to prefer the country to go to the polls in the summer when much of the population is expected to already be vaccinated against the coronavirus and criticism of Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic may ease.
The budget has long been held up by Likud, with Netanyahu widely believed to be planning to dissolve the government anyway before the 2021 budget must be passed in March, since under the coalition agreement, failure to pass the budget is the only scenario (apart from Blue and White causing the fall of the government) in which Gantz won’t succeed Netanyahu as prime minister.
Blue and White have been demanding that a two-year state budget be passed for 2020 and 2021 together — as the coalition deal stipulates — in a bid to force Netanyahu to honor the power-sharing clause. Likud objects to that, meaning a compromise is unlikely and elections will be called on December 23 at the latest.
If the government falls due to failure to pass the budget — rather than due to the legislation now making its way through the pipeline — the election date will automatically be March 23, 2021.