Bibi heading to the left? Netanyahu cancels meetings with key right-wing, religious parties

As coalition negotiations with right-wing factions stall, Netanyahu is reportedly exploring options for a broad government that includes center-left parties.

By World Israel News Staff

Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu canceled meetings with his key coalition partners, the Religious Zionism and United Torah Judaism parties, on Wednesday morning.

The move sparked rumors that he may be negotiating with current caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz (National Unity) for a broad government that would include the center-left parties.

The announcement came as negotiations between the Religious Zionism party and Netanyahu’s Likud were deadlocked. Religious Zionism leader Betzalel Smotrich is reportedly refusing to back down from his demand that he be appointed Defense Minister.

A recent report indicated that the Biden administration had sent messages to Netanyahu, his advisors, and senior Defense Ministry officials warning that should Smotrich or MK Itamar Ben Gvir – who has asked to be made Interior Security Minister – be appointed to defense-focused ministerial positions, the U.S. may lessen its security coordination with the Jewish state.

Smotrich’s limited time in the military, which he spent in a non-combat role, is also considered to be an issue, though the politician gathered support from hundreds of leading Religious Zionism rabbis who believe he should be awarded the role.

Netanyahu is thought to be eyeing former IDF general Yoav Galant for the position.

As the third-largest party in the Knesset, and the second-largest in the Netanyahu-led bloc after Likud, the Religious Zionism party has considerable sway during the negotiations over the distribution of ministerial portfolios.

The Religious Zionism and United Torah Judaism parties have also reportedly demanded a number of pieces of legislation as part of their agreements to partner with Likud, including the passage of a Supreme Court override bill.

Smotrich has demanded a pledge from Netanyahu that he will officially annex Judea and Samaria, including retroactively legalizing Jewish communities in the region and dismantling COGAT, which acts as a liaison between civilian Arab communities and the Israeli military.

Netanyahu is reportedly balking at both the demand for sovereignty in Judea and Samaria and the Supreme Court override bill.

He reportedly told Smotrich during their last meeting that Israel needs to act moderately as long as the Biden administration is in power.