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Yamina, Religious Zionism trade blame for lack of right-wing government

Shaked doesn’t rule out prospect of forming coalition with ‘change bloc’ after Smotrich accuses Yamina of pretending to drop negotiations with Netanyahu’s rivals

Ayelet Shaked and Bezalel Smotrich visit at a protest tent of settler leaders, outside the Prime Ministers Office in Jerusalem, February 6, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ayelet Shaked and Bezalel Smotrich visit at a protest tent of settler leaders, outside the Prime Ministers Office in Jerusalem, February 6, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Religious Zionism and Yamina parties on Wednesday traded blame for the inability of right-wing factions to form a government after general elections in March, with Naftali Bennett’s party appearing to keep open the possibility of joining a coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rivals.

Yamina is facing heavy pressure from Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc to fully rule out the prospect of forming a government with the so-called “change bloc” of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties opposed to the premier. While Yamina has said it would join a minority right-wing government with Netanyahu and his allies that is propped up by Ra’am, the far-right Religious Zionism opposes a coalition that relies on the Islamist party.

In a press conference, Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich accused Yamina of “scamming” the public during the recent conflict in the Gaza Strip into believing it had given up on attempting to form a power-sharing government that would see Yamina leader Bennett and Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid switch off as prime minister.

“Naftali Bennett and [Yamina No. 2] Ayelet Shaked soothed right-wing voters and created the false appearance that the change government had been taken off the table, while in actuality they continued to work to form a leftist government with terror supporters,” Smotrich said.

He was apparently referring to a claim by a source close to Bennett earlier this month that Yamina had given up on forming a government with Lapid, amid violence between Arabs and Jews that erupted across the country during the fighting against the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group. However, Bennett has since signaled he could still be open to such a government.

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a press conference at the Knesset on May 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“You’ve been had. So long as a leftist government is on the table there is no chance of forming a nationalist government,” Smotrich said.

He also accused Bennett and Shaked of “lying,” claiming their refusal to publicly rule out a premiership rotation government with Lapid was “the sole reason” a right-wing government hasn’t been formed since the March 23 elections — the fourth since April 2019 — in which Netanyahu’s bloc again failed to secure a majority. Bennett and Shaked ran together with Smotrich in two of those elections.

Shaked hit back at Smotrich during a televised statement several hours later, saying Yamina’s top priority was “saving Israel from the chaos” by working to form a government.

“And for this we’re paying a heavy public price, but we’re proud of it,” she said.

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked gives a statement to the press at the Knesset on May 26, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

She called Smotrich “the greatest obstacle to a right-wing government” and accused him of leading Israel to fifth elections that she claimed would end in a “historic loss” for the right.

“He already understands that he’ll be to blame and therefore has begun firing hysterically in all directions,” the Yamina MK said.

Shaked charged that Smotrich “lied to the public,” saying Yamina has not had “direct or indirect contact” with the change bloc since halting coalition talks two weeks ago. She also said he lied about possible “defectors” in anti-Netanyahu parties who would help round out Netanyahu’s coalition.

She called on New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar — whose right-wing party refuses to join a coalition headed by Netanyahu — “to demonstrate responsibility and join a right-wing government.”

Though Shaked did not mention a possible government with the change bloc, she also did not rule one out.

The two spoke after Channel 12 news reported that Shaked met with Smotrich the day before, proposing he bring Religious Zionism into the so-called change government, while booting Netanyahu from office.

According to the report, Shaked proposed that if Netanyahu cannot form a right-wing government — which he currently has no clear prospect of doing — Smotrich should bring Religious Zionism into a coalition led by Bennett and Lapid that would not rely on Ra’am.

Also taking part in the meeting was Yamina MK Nir Orbach and leading national-religious rabbi Chaim Druckman, the network said.

Shaked appeared to confirm the meeting during her remarks Wednesday.

Rabbi Chaim Druckman, right and MK Naftali Bennett attend the campaign launch of the right-wing Yamina party, February 12, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Along with the pressure Yamina is facing from the right, it is also facing growing calls to join a government of anti-Netanyahu parties, which say they have a government nearly formed.

“The government is almost finalized, we are waiting for Bennett,” an unnamed official told Channel 13 news on Tuesday, after Yesh Atid came to an agreement with the Blue and White, Labor, Meretz and Yisrael Beytenu parties.

Bennett has refused to commit to either the pro- or anti-Netanyahu blocs, keeping his options open. He has vowed to do “everything” to prevent the country from going to its fifth election in two and a half years.

However, the right-wing leader is widely seen as unlikely to join the change bloc, even though a deal would see him appointed prime minister. If Bennett does get on board, New Hope will join as well, putting the government within reach of a majority if either one of the majority-Arab Joint List or Ra’am parties give their backing.

Ra’am is reportedly willing to join such a government if a majority becomes viable. It won’t demand ministry portfolios and will be content with government funding for Arab communities and causes, as well as the positions of deputy Knesset speaker and chairperson of a Knesset committee.

Lapid has until next week to form a government before his mandate expires.

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