As Israel heads for a new election in March 2020, a senior right-wing figure has told associates his party will not automatically support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next government if he doesn’t have enough votes following the national poll, Channel 12 news reported Saturday.
“There will not be another blind following of Netanyahu,” the unnamed official reportedly said. “A fourth election is not an option and would be unforgivable.”
The official in the right-wing bloc said he and his allies would consider supporting another candidate to form a government if Netanyahu cannot do so.
Channel 13, meanwhile, reported that Netanyahu is working to prevent the loss of right-wing votes in the March ballot, an unprecedented third vote in under a year, by ensuring that all small right-wing slates run together as one list. In both previous elections a right-wing party failed to pass the electoral threshold, losing votes for the right.
Ahead of the April election Netanyahu cut a controversial deal to ensure the far-right Otzma Yehudit ran alongside other religious parties, Jewish Home and National Union. New Right failed to pass the electoral threshold in that ballot. While New Right merged with Jewish Home and National Union for the September vote, it was Otzma Yehudit that ran independently, once again causing right-wing votes to go to waste.
Netanyahu was presumably hoping to arrange an alliance of all four parties in the upcoming election.
Speaking to Channel 12 on Saturday, Jewish Home-National Union’s No. 2 Bezalel Smotrich also called for small right-wing parties to unite, even as New Right chief Naftali Bennett reiterated his party’s intention to run independently in March.
Smotrich called for a single slate representing the religious right.
“We need to learn from past mistakes. In the [April] election we ran with two lists and the New Right didn’t pass the electoral threshold. If it hadn’t been for that we’d already be nearing a year with a good right-wing government.”
Following the September vote, Netanyahu’s Likud formed a bloc with ultra-Orthodox parties and other right-wing parties to negotiate a coalition as an united bloc. The so-called bloc of 55 held between that election and this week’s dissolution of the Knesset, but there have been signs in recent days that it may not remain united if it fails to secure a majority in the next election.
On Wednesday the Israel Hayom newspaper reported that an unnamed right-wing leader, in closed conversations in recent days, had said “the situation of a bloc will not happen again.”
The unidentified person said “the move was right at the time… to prevent the formation of a left-wing government. But it won’t happen next time. If Netanyahu can’t form a government we cannot repeat what has taken place in recent months, we’ll have to look for new possibilities and alliances.”
Meanwhile, Shas party leader Aryeh Deri said Thursday that the bloc of 55 Knesset members would continue to work together ahead of the new ballot, but suggested the alliance may not last if it again fails to win a Knesset majority.
On Saturday Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman told Channel 12 he believed that “The story of blocs is over.” Liberman, a right-wing secularist, helped trigger the current political gridlock after refusing to join a Netanyahu-led coalition following elections in April over disagreements with the prime minister’s ultra-Orthodox allies.
After September’s vote, Liberman sought to force a government of Yisrael Beytenu, Likud and Blue and White, but unity talks broke down with the two largest parties arguing over the terms of such a coalition.
Netanyahu also faces a challenge from Likud rival Gideon Sa’ar in an upcoming leadership primary set for December 26.
Sa’ar on Saturday told Channel 13 electing Netanyahu to lead the party again “will take us to the opposition. Only choosing me will enable Likud to remain in power.”
He said: “I will grow the right-wing bloc, Netanyahu will shrink it. I can bring in votes from the other bloc.
“Everybody knows Netanyahu is hindered from several directions: his personal relations with various party leaders, parties leaning on the legal issues [to rule him out] and right-wing voters who’ve left us and won’t return if Netanyahu is leading us.”
As part of his primary campaign, Netanyahu on Saturday met with hundreds of party activists in Beit Shemesh. Most Likud MKs have expressed support for Netanyahu to continue leading the party.
Netanyahu faces charges in three criminal cases that include bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The Blue and White party, Likud’s chief rival in the past two elections and in the upcoming March vote, has said it will not sit under a prime minister charged with corruption.
Netanyahu ally MK David Bitan also criticized Sa’ar, telling Channel 13 the party would fall below 20 seats in March if Netanyahu is pushed out. Sa’ar, he said, was “serving the left” that wants Netanyahu removed.
“The fight [in the next election],” he said, “is between Netanyahu and the left,” while Sa’ar’s challenge to the premier was a distraction.
On Friday an opinion poll showed Blue and White opening a six-seat lead, its biggest yet, over Netanyahu’s Likud. It showed the former party picking up a record 37 seats, up from 33 now, while Likud would drop from its current 32 to 31 in the 120-seat Knesset.
The survey, published by the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom newspaper, is also the first to predict that if Sa’ar wins the Likud leadership primary, the party will fare no worse than with Netanyahu at the helm, and remain at 31.
Sa’ar has the edge over Netanyahu according to the poll since while both won’t manage to lead the right-wing religious bloc to the necessary 61 Knesset seats, Sa’ar is predicted to secure 56 seats while Netanyahu falls to a low of just 51 for the bloc.
Channel 12 on Friday reported Blue and White is hoping to retain that lead through the campaign and is looking at enlisting some new names for the party roster — including a prominent woman in a high position on the slate and a national-religious figure that could appeal to religious voters.
The party was also reportedly planning to avoid negative campaigning against ultra-Orthodox parties in order to keep them as potential coalition partners following the March vote.