Despite party leader Naftali Bennett last week backing away from efforts to form a government that would replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Yamina is signaling that a coalition deal with Yesh Atid is not fully off the table, Channel 13 news reported Friday.
The mandate of Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid to form a government ends on June 2. He and Yamina chief Bennett were on the verge of clinching a coalition deal with the support of the Islamist Ra’am party when the fighting with Gaza terror groups broke out, leading Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas to back out and Bennett to later declare that the option was no longer viable.
The unsourced Channel 13 report said that members of the change bloc were acting very cautiously to ascertain Bennett’s position, amid concerns the Yamina head was using the situation to try to increase his demands in negotiations with Netanyahu.
The report came days after the Walla news site said in the wake of Bennett apparently burning his bridges with the so-called “change bloc,” Netanyahu has significantly watered down his original offer to the right-wing party head.
Meanwhile, Blue and White head Benny Gantz told Channel 12 on Friday that he rejected claims Netanyahu had political motivations behind the conflict with Gaza, and denied that he would sit in another government with the incumbent premier.
“There were no politics here in this [military] operation, nor would I let politics enter into it,” the defense minister said. “The prime minister and I worked together on the security issue. I think security matters go beyond political matters.”
The comments came after claims that Netanyahu was drawing out the conflict to run out the clock on Lapid’s mandate to form a government.
“The state needs something new, but the idea of a change government seems to be dying out,” Gantz said. “Bennett is a political man, he has a political camp that he needs to deal with and he made his own considerations. I value him as a person. He makes his own decisions,” Gantz said.
“Yair Lapid would be a good prime minister. We need to form this government, we need to see what can be done,” Gantz said.
As part of a media blitz which saw Gantz as the only high-level official to answer questions from journalists in the wake of Operation Guardian of the Walls, the defense minister told the Ynet news site that Netanyahu had already offered him the option of being prime minister first in a potential coalition.
“There was an offer before [the conflict] that I would be the first in the rotation and form a government with him, but I did not agree to it.” Gantz said.
“And I am not going to agree to it because Israel needs a new direction,” he said. “Either Israel will get there through a coalition of change, or it will get there through elections. But I will not cooperate with Netanyahu. He deceived me on the political field and I do not intend to renew cooperation with him.”
The comments came after reports earlier this week that representatives of Netanyahu and Gantz were discussing a potential coalition partnership after the end of the conflict.
This claim was quickly denied by both sides, with officials in the so-called change bloc that aims to oust Netanyahu claiming the premier had leaked a false story in an attempt to sow discord among his opponents.
A Channel 12 report on the ostensible Netanyahu-Gantz contacts said that the proposal would see Gantz serve as premier first in a rotation deal for a period of 18 months, before handing over over the office to Netanyahu. Netanyahu would serve as alternate prime minister and foreign minister for the first 18 months, and stay at the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. (It was not clear how Netanyahu could serve as foreign minister. Under law, individuals under criminal indictment cannot serve as ministers — though that same rule does not apply to the job of prime minister.)
Netanyahu is interested in pursuing this option only if he cannot see a path to retaining power via a bid for a new direct election of the prime minister, the report said.
Netanyahu and Gantz formed a power-sharing government in May of last year, which was marred by constant infighting and dysfunction. It finally collapsed in December, prompting March 23’s inconclusive election.
The Prime Minister’s Office rejected the report as untrue, and Blue and White sources told the network that Gantz would not partner with Netanyahu “even if he promises the moon.”
However, according to several Hebrew media reports Tuesday, Gideon Sa’ar, the head of the right-wing New Hope party, is reportedly weighing the option of a power-sharing coalition with Netanyahu in which Sa’ar goes first as prime minister.
The reports said that despite his former steadfast refusal to enable Netanyahu to form another government, Sa’ar has softened his objection to any political cooperation since Bennett backed away from the change coalition.
According to Channel 12 report, however, Likud officials believe Sa’ar may agree to a rotation deal since he has only promised not to serve “under” Netanyahu and not “alongside” him.
The network further speculated that Bennett would then also be compelled to agree to join a Sa’ar-Netanyahu-led coalition, due to his promise not to torpedo a right-wing government if it can be formed.
Responding to that report, New Hope said “there are no negotiations taking place or any proposal on the table.”
If Lapid fails to cobble together a coalition during his 28-day window, 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.