Smotrich: PM wants a left-wing government, only we can keep him to the right
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Smotrich: PM wants a left-wing government, only we can keep him to the right

Transportation minister responds to reported comments by Netanyahu that it’s preferable for United Right faction to win fewer seats in September

Transportation Minister Betzalel Smotrich arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on June 24, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Transportation Minister Betzalel Smotrich arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on June 24, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Wednesday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of wanting to form a left-wing government. Smotrich spoke after the premier reportedly told Likud party activists that it would be better that Smotrich’s United Right party win seven or eight seats, rather than the currently projected 12, in order to ensure that Netanyahu helms the next coalition.

“There are more and more indications that Netanyahu is going to form a left-wing government. That’s why he wants us small and weak. Only if we are big and strong will he have no choice and he will have to form a right-wing government. The United Right keeps Netanyahu to the right,” Smotrich tweeted.

According to Army Radio, Netanyahu made the comments as part of a speech to party activists on Tuesday.

“It is better to have only eight to seven seats and not 12 for the United Right, because that way they will be in the right-wing coalition. The Likud situation is very bad,” Netanyahu reportedly said, heralding the start of what has been termed a “gevalt campaign” — a tactic he has employed in previous elections to convince voters to head to the polls and vote Likud because his premiership is in danger.

Netanyahu on Wednesday expressed his opposition to a unity government with the centrist Blue and White party, rejecting a push for such a coalition by Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and leader of the Yisrael Beytenu political party Avigdor Liberman on May 25, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Liberman has vowed to demand a unity government consisting of his party, Likud and Blue and White that does not include ultra-Orthodox factions if no one can form a coalition after the elections without Yisrael Beytenu.

A month and a half before the September 17 election, speculation is rife that a unity government could be the only viable result of the race. In all major polls, Netanyahu’s Likud does not appear to have a Knesset majority with just religious right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties after the dramatic falling out in May between the prime minister and Liberman.

Similarly, Blue and White, led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, looks to be unable to cobble together a coalition with parties to its left, and, without Likud, would need to build a government propped up by mutually antagonistic secularists and Haredi factions — a similarly unlikely prospect.

However, a poll on Monday for the Walla news site showed that a majority of the Israeli public opposes a unity government led by Netanyahu that brings together the Likud party and Blue and White.

On Wednesday, the premier reacted to Liberman’s push with a statement — run by the staunchly pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom paper as a column and featured as its main headline — saying that “my commitment is clear: There will be no unity government.”

Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, leaders of the Blue and White party, hold a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 21, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The rest of the statement did not refer to the issue of a unity government and did not offer an explanation or elaboration on his position. It featured Netanyahu’s campaign messages pledging to form a right-wing government, calling on the public to vote for his party and attacking Gantz, Lapid and Liberman as leftists. The premier is campaigning to pick off supporters from the Yisrael Beytenu leader’s base of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Once a political ally, Liberman refused to join a Netanyahu-led government after the elections in April unless a bill formalizing exemptions to mandatory military service for seminary students was passed without changes, a demand rejected by the prime minister’s ultra-Orthodox partners.

That impasse helped trigger the fresh vote, as, without Yisrael Beytenu, Netanyahu was one seat short of a ruling majority.

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