Yamina MK doubles down on opposing coalition with the left

MK Amichai Chikli says he’ll vote against a government with Meretz or Joint List; meanwhile 2nd party member says Likud made him lavish offers to defect

Yamina MK Amichai Chikli seen at the Knesset on April 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitousi/Flash90)
Yamina MK Amichai Chikli seen at the Knesset on April 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitousi/Flash90)

Yamina MK Amichai Chikli on Thursday firmed up his vow to not serve in a potential unity government presided over by his own party leader, saying he would vote against such a coalition if it were officially proposed.

His remarks came a day after President Reuven Rivlin tasked Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid with building a government in the wake of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to establish a coalition in the 28 days granted him last month.

Lapid seeks to form a power-sharing unity government with Yamina chief Naftali Bennett, one that Bennett himself would lead for its first two years, before Lapid takes 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. “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.

Lapid and Bennett have been negotiating coalition terms in recent weeks, reportedly closing in on agreements in many areas.

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)

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.

The lengths to which Likud is going to sway Yamina members was highlighted by MK Abir Kara, who claimed on Thursday that Netanyahu’s party had recently offered him the position of economics minister and said it would guarantee him a spot on the party’s list for the next two elections if he switched parties.

In a letter to the prime minister widely reported upon by Hebrew media, Kara turned down the offer, telling Netanyahu he had “failed to build a government” despite resorting to “tricks and gimmicks.”

“Instead of busying yourself with setting up a government, you were busy with personal insults against Naftali Bennett. Pity,” he wrote.

Hammering home his commitment to Bennett, Kara suggested that Likud “join with us in a government led by Naftali Bennett” and promised that Netanyahu’s party would receive “great influence” in such a coalition.

Kara, who previously led a protest group of small businesses, also accused Netanyahu of not fulfilling campaign promises he had made to the group before the recent elections.

“You failed to deal with independent and small businesses,” Kara wrote.

Likud responded to the letter by claiming that no such offer was made to Kara and dismissing it as “ridiculous spin from Bennett that is intended to divert attention away from him galloping into a leftist-government with Meretz and Labor in contrast to all his commitments to the voter.”

Rumors have also focused on MK Idit Silman as a potential target of Likud, but close associates of the freshman lawmaker told Channel 12 news that she will not desert Bennett and remains committed to his leadership.

Another Yamina MK who is in Likud’s sights is Nir Orbach, Kan news reported. Orbach summoned a meeting of his inner circle on Wednesday to discuss his moves in the developing political scene, according to the network.

Yamina party MK Abir Kara seen in the Knesset on April 05, 2021. (Olivier Fitousi/Flash90)

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.

Netanyahu had in recent days demanded that Bennett rule out any coalition with the center-left, claiming this would cause holdouts to join the fold. Bennett refused to do so.

Despite reports that she is still working to form a right-wing government, Yamina No. 2 MK Ayelet Shaked is supportive of Bennett’s efforts to form a government with Lapid, Yamina sources told The Times of Israel Wednesday.

Shaked herself Wednesday indicated her backing for Bennett, saying in a statement that the party leader had negotiated with Netanyahu in good faith and “made every effort to enable a right-wing government.” Bennett “said from the start that he would try to establish a right-wing government, and that’s what he did,” she said. “He also said he would make every effort to prevent another election — and that’s what he’s doing.”

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

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 the Islamist 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.

Yamina party Idit Silman MK arrives to attend the swearing-in ceremony of the 24th Knesset in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Aside from the difficulties Lapid has in reaching a majority, there is reportedly sharp disagreement on the divvying up of key ministries among the potential coalition partners.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz is already defense and justice minister, but the first post is also sought by the New Hope party and the latter by Yamina, according to Hebrew media reports. In addition, the Labor party and New Hope are both chasing the Education Ministry, with Labor also said to be hankering for another top ministry.

Netanyahu, who has served as prime minister for a record-breaking 12 consecutive years, plus a three-year term from 1996-9, was given first chance at building a government after the deadlocked March 23 elections. But on Tuesday, the prime minister’s time to do so ran out, clearing the path for Lapid to make an attempt.

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 — including Netanyahu or Gantz — 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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