Yamina, United Torah Judaism back Netanyahu for PM, confirming 55-MK bloc
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Yamina, United Torah Judaism back Netanyahu for PM, confirming 55-MK bloc

In meetings with Rivlin, ultra-Orthodox UTJ says it won’t lift its veto on Lapid due to his ‘incitement,’ Yamina says it won’t negotiate with Gantz if he’s picked for premier

Members of the United Torah Judaism party meet with President Reuven Rivlin at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on September 23, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Members of the United Torah Judaism party meet with President Reuven Rivlin at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on September 23, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The religious-right United Torah Judaism and Yamina parties on Monday met President Reuven Rivlin and told him they recommend Benjamin Netanyahu as the next prime minister, officially confirming that the incumbent leader has the support of 55 MKs — one more than his rival Benny Gantz.

Rivlin was completing his round of consultations with representatives of all newly elected Knesset parties, after which he will have to make a decision on whom to task with forming the next government.

He is expected to try to force a unity government amid a deadlock between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White. As things stood Monday morning, Netanyahu appeared more likely than Gantz to be given the first chance at cobbling together such a coalition.

At 10 a.m., leaders of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party came to the President’s Residence and recommended Netanyahu, as they have repeatedly said they would do, adding that they would not sit with Blue and White’s Yair Lapid.

“As we promised, the United Torah Judaism faction is recommending Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister,” the party’s No. 2, Moshe Gafni, told Rivlin. “We do not know why the state’s citizens need to be sentenced to such a punishment for a year now, with the state paralyzed by the election campaigns. It must not continue.

“This election campaign was focused on the ultra-Orthodox public; wild incitement and lies were spread against us, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the president for his condemnation of that,” he added, referring to secularist campaigns by the Yisrael Beytenu party and Blue and White, both of which vowed to form a government without the ultra-Orthodox.

Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on September 23, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

UTJ leader Yaakov Litzman made similar remarks: “I have never seen such a campaign of hatred against the ultra-Orthodox. If you, Mr. President, saw a campaign ad on the street of one of the candidates saying he was boycotting Ethiopians or Druze, you would be enraged: We do not know why we and the citizens of this state are punished like this.”

Asked whether he would agree to sit in the same government with nemesis Lapid, Litzman said: “I assume you wouldn’t be friends with someone who beat you up. I represent a community that has been boycotted by Lapid; therefore we won’t lift the veto.”

The religious right-wing Yamina alliance, which has similarly pledged to back the incumbent leader, arrived next and endorsed Netanyahu.

“As we promised, we will recommend Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing camp,” said party chief Ayelet Shaked. “We will do what is necessary to help him in the work of forming a government, if you task him with the role.”

She urged Rivlin to pressure Blue and White to agree to sit with the religious right-wing parties, but only under Netanyahu’s rule.

“If you task Gantz with forming the government, we will not negotiate with him,” Shaked said. “We are committed to the head of the national camp, Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Yamina party chief Ayelet Shaked and other party members hold a press conference after meeting with President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, September 23, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“I do want to tell you, Mr. President, that you may need to act like a kindergarten teacher and tell the other party leaders to stop the boycotts,” she added. “There are ideological boycotts and there are also personal boycotts. And it needs to stop, both the personal and the ideological boycotts, and to try and get to some form of unity government.

“We wanted to, ideally, form a right-wing government, but what can you do, the voters think differently,” she added, noting that without Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party, the right did not have a majority, and that “therefore we definitely need some form of unity government.”

Later Monday, Rivlin was set to meet members of the center-left Labor-Gesher and the left-wing Democratic Camp, both of which are expected to back Gantz.

As with Sunday’s consultations, the meetings are being broadcast live to the public.

As it stands, neither Likud nor Blue and White have a path to a coalition without the other. In last Tuesday’s election, Blue and White emerged as the larger party, according to almost-final results, at 33 seats, while Likud won 31. Netanyahu heads a right-wing and ultra-Orthodox bloc of 55 MKs. Gantz heads a bloc of 44 centrist and left-wing MKs, with another 10 from the predominantly Arab Joint List, which in a rare move recommended Gantz as prime minister on Sunday.

While 10 of the 13 Joint List lawmakers backed Gantz for prime minister — the three-member Balad faction refused to sign on — they have ruled out joining a coalition. The decision marked the first time Arab parties, separately or together, have recommended a mainstream Zionist politician since 1992, when they supported Labor Party leader Yitzhak Rabin, who campaigned on peace with the Palestinians.

In the kingmaker position is Yisrael Beytenu — which has vowed to force a coalition with both Likud and Blue and White and no other party — with eight seats.

Photo composition (L to R): Blue and White chief Benny Gantz, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Yonatan Sindel, Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Rivlin began his consultations with political parties on Sunday, meeting with the five largest parties to receive their recommendations on the candidate who should be tasked with assembling the next coalition.

During the talks, Blue and White and the Joint List backed Gantz, Likud and Shas nominated Netanyahu, and Yisrael Beytenu refrained from endorsing either candidate. After meeting with the remaining parties on Monday, Rivlin is expected to make a decision later this week or early next week.

Sources in Blue and White told Hebrew-language media on Sunday night that they would prefer to pass the buck and take their shot after Netanyahu tries — and fails — to build the next government.

Likud has expressed similar willingness to have Gantz try first and fail.

President Reuven Rivlin speaks during a meeting with members of the Likud party, to decide who to task with trying to form a new government, in Jerusalem on September 22, 2019. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

The president has the power to appoint one of the elected 120 MKs as the next potential prime minister of Israel. The designated premier must then attempt to cobble together a coalition that wins the support of a majority of Knesset members. Once a candidate is chosen by the president, that individual has 28 days to present a coalition to the new Knesset and win a vote of confidence. The president is allowed to extend that period by up to 14 days.

If the candidate fails, the second most likely candidate is given a shot at forming a coalition.

Should the second candidate fail, new elections are called, unless any of the 120 MKs musters the support of 61 lawmakers backing his leadership.

Rivlin has wide discretion with his decision, and it is entirely within his purview to try and force a unity government that includes both Likud and Blue and White. On Sunday, a senior member of the President’s Residence said Rivlin would float options not yet heard by the public.

Netanyahu last week urged Gantz to form a national unity government under his leadership that includes all members of his religious right-wing bloc. The Blue and White leader rebuffed the offer, noting his party received more seats and should therefore lead such a coalition.

Gantz has insisted that Netanyahu, who is facing a looming criminal indictment, relinquish the premiership as a condition for a Blue and White-Likud alliance. Blue and White has also vowed to form a government without the ultra-Orthodox and “extremists.”

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