The possibility of an Arab party supporting a Netanyahu coalition government is splitting Likud members who support or decry the scenario.
By Paul Shindman, World Israel News
The sharp change Wednesday in the election outcome with the Arab Ra’am party gaining the minimum votes needed to be in the Knesset has produced a split in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, Channel 12 reported.
Exit polls Tuesday evening at the close of voting in Israel’s national election had predicted a slim 61-seat right-wing majority government for Netanyahu.
Those predictions were based on polls that showed Ra’am (the United Arab List) had not received enough votes to gain seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament. However, by Wednesday morning official returns showed Ra’am had garnered 4% of the popular vote, enough for five seats and the kingmaker position if Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas decides to support a Netanyahu government.
Likud Knesset member Tzachi Hanegbi, known as a long-time Netanyahu loyalist, said in an interview Wednesday morning that the Likud is “ready to enter into negotiations with Mansour Abbas, even if he is in opposition.”
“Why should this be prevented? If he will vote in favor [of a Netanyahu government] we have no problem. He won’t be part of the coalition or the government,” Hanegbi said, implying he expected Abbas could be willing to support a Netanyahu government to avoid going to a fifth national election.
Hanegbi was slammed by fellow Likud member Shlomo Karhi, who tweeted, “Absolutely not.”
Asked by Channel 12 about Karhi’s harsh reaction to the possibility of negotiations with Abbas, Hanegbi dismissed the objection, saying, “Remind me who this (Karhi) is.”
Told that the comment came from fellow Likud legislator Shlomo Karhi, Hanegbi replied with contempt, saying he would Google Karhi’s name later.
Karhi then went on the air and attacked Hanegbi, accusing him of staying in Likud as a “mole of Gideon Saar” – referring to the leader of the New Hope party who bolted Likud before the election, vowing to help unseat Netanyahu.
“This is a man who has no place at all in a right-wing government,” Karhi said of Hanegbi, calling the veteran MK “a man who comes and throws in the trash all the values of the Likud.”
Hanegbi has a history of floating non-standard ideas in public on behalf of Netanyahu in order to judge how the ideas are received, taking the heat for his leader. The veteran Likud legislator was present in the Channel 12 studio when Karhi spoke, but he refused to respond to Karhi’s accusations.
Earlier Wednesday, Abbas said he was willing to negotiate.
“We have said as a position that we are not in anyone’s pocket and are willing to come into contact with both sides, anyone who is willing to form a government and sees himself as a future prime minister,” Abbas said. “If an offer comes – we will sit, talk, raise things and be heard.”
In a Channel 12 interview last week, Netanyahu dismissed any idea of relying on support from Ra’am to get him back into power, despite having courted the Arab vote during the election campaign.
“I not only do not need Ra’am, I can say the opposite. Ra’am, Mansour Abbas, Ahmad Tibi and Ayman Odeh want to overthrow us,” Netanyahu said, referring to leaders of two other Arab factions in the Joint Arab List. “Unequivocally, Ra’am will not be the 61st vote – nor will I lean on them.”
Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Yemina party that currently is on track to win seven seats and might support Netanyahu, showed a document to Channel 20 before Tuesday’s election in which he pledged never to join a government that needed the votes of Ra’am to put it in power.
But with the reality of not having enough right-wing support for a 61-seat majority, Netanyahu’s hard line appears to be consigned to history.
Likud Party caucus chairman Mickey Zohar sounded a different tone with the election after results showed Ra’am might hold the deciding votes for Netanyahu to remain prime minister.
“It is our duty to do everything, but everything, to prevent a fifth election,” Zohar tweeted. “All the existing political options must be exhausted in order to form a government that will work for all the citizens of Israel, because that is what is important for our country at the moment.”