Yamina MK: My decision to potentially vote against unity government was not easy

Amichai Chikli doubles down on opposition to a coalition with Meretz or Joint List, but doesn’t entirely rule out Islamist Ra’am party

Yamina MK Amichai Chikli at the Knesset swearing-in ceremony on April 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitousi/Flash90)
Yamina MK Amichai Chikli at the Knesset swearing-in ceremony on April 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitousi/Flash90)

Yamina MK Amichai Chikli reiterated on Saturday that he would not serve in a potential unity government presided over by his own party leader, saying that a gut feeling led him to make the difficult decision.

“This was one of the weightiest decisions I’ve ever made. Just a feeling of distress that accumulated, a feeling that this wasn’t me and that I wasn’t at peace with it,” he told Channel 12, referring to his statements from earlier in the week when he said he would vote against a government that included the predominantly-Arab Joint List party or left-wing Meretz.

Chikli said he has a commitment to his party’s leader Naftali Bennett and number No. 2 MK Ayelet Shaked, but regardless feels that he has no choice but to oppose such a government, should it come to a vote.

When Chikli was asked if he would support a government with the Islamist Ra’am party, he said he was unsure if Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas would recognize Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.”

Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra’am party, gives a press statement after meeting with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The comments came as Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid seeks to form a power-sharing unity government with Bennett, one that Bennett himself would lead for its first two years, after which Lapid would take the reins for the latter half of its term.

“Let there be no misunderstandings, I will vote against the establishment of a government with the Joint List and Meretz exactly as we committed to the voter,” Chikli tweeted on Thursday. “Have a nice day.”  Chikli was apparently responding to reports that he may abstain from a vote on such a coalition, rather than actively opposing it.

Bennett and the leaders of the so-called change bloc in the Knesset have made progress in talks on forming a government, according to reports Friday, and hope to seal the matter in the coming week — though numerous difficulties remain.

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett (left) and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid during the swearing-in ceremony of the 24th Knesset, at the Knesset building in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party are pressing Yamina as a whole, as well as individual MKs, to not join with Lapid in forming a government, with efforts focused on getting other lawmakers from Bennett’s right-wing party to adopt Chikli’s position.

On Wednesday Netanyahu made a live television broadcast in which he attacked Bennett for contemplating entering a coalition with Lapid to form what he called “a dangerous left-wing government.” He also appealed to the entire Yamina party to instead join his own bloc of right-wing and religious parties.

Bennett had already committed to joining Netanyahu when he had the mandate if the premier could muster a majority, but Netanyahu was unable to convince the hard-right Religious Zionism to join, as in order to reach a majority in the 120-seat Knesset he would need to rely on the support of the Islamist Ra’am party from outside the coalition.

Bennett will apparently begin a counterattack against the Religious Zionism party and its leader Betzalel Smotrich in the coming week, and suggest that a so-called unity government is the only alternative to a fifth election, Channel 12 News reported on Saturday.

Smotrich “thwarted a government and is now toppling it on us,” sources in Yamina told the network, referring to when the right-wing MK ruled out any parliamentary cooperation with Ra’am.

Netanyahu had in recent days demanded that Bennett pledge not to join any coalition with the center-left, claiming this would cause holdouts to join the fold. Bennett refused to do so.

Lapid, like Netanyahu before him, has 28 days to try and form a government, but he faces an uphill battle.

Then-education minister Naftali Bennett (L) and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid during a ceremony at Netiv Ha’avot, at the West Bank’s Elazar settlement, on July 23, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

In addition to resolving their own differences, Lapid and Bennett must also muster a majority coalition from an unlikely mixture of right-wing, left-wing, and centrist parties as well as Ra’am, which complicates matters and raises the question of how stable such a government would be. Even with Yamina’s seven MKs, Lapid’s bloc has only 59 seats; hence the need to secure cooperation in the form of outside support from either the Joint List or Ra’am.

If Lapid fails to cobble together a coalition during his 28-day window, which ends June 2, a majority of lawmakers could try to endorse any Knesset member as prime minister. A leader has never before been elected during that time period in Israel. If that 21-day period fails to yield a coalition, the country would be forced into the unprecedented scenario of a fifth election in two and a half years.

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