Netanyahu blasts coalition, fights to survive, seeks defectors to block new gov’t

Netanyahu, Likud allies looking to exploit political differences to block a Lapid-Bennett coalition government.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

With an estimated 10 days left before coalition government could sweep him out of power for the first time in 12 years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies attacked Yemina Party leader Naftali Bennett Thurdsay in an attempt to break apart the bizarre coalition of right, left and Arab parties before it can take office.

“All right-wing Knesset members must oppose this dangerous left-wing government,” Netanyahu tweeted.

On Friday, supporters of Netanyahu’s Likud party protested outside Bennett’s home in Ra’anana, angry with his decision to go back on a pre-election promise to never sit in a government with the center-left Yesh Atid party led by Yair Lapid. Netanyahu and top Likud officials are trying to get Yemina members Nir Orbach and Idit Silman to drop their support, Kan News reported.

On social media, the Likud party posted a loop of a nine-second video of Bennett, who is on track to replace Netanyahu as prime minister, promising that he would never serve in a Lapid government.

“I promise you that in any situation I will not sit (with) and will not give my hand that Yair Lapid will be the prime minister of Israel,” Bennett said at the time.

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However, Bennett on Thursday explained in a Channel 10 interview that his top priority was preventing Israel from going to a fifth straight election. In return, Lapid also compromised and will allow Bennett, whose Yemina party has only seven seats compared to Lapid’s 17 in the 120-seat Knesset, lead the country first.

The eight-party coalition will see Lapid and Bennett split the leadership duties with Bennett being prime minister for the next two years before handing the position over to Lapid.

Bennett held a private meeting of the seven Knesset members in his caucus, working to convince legislator Orbach to support the formation of the unprecedented coalition that will see right, center and left-wing parties get the support of the Islamist United Arab List (Ra’am) party to give it the required majority in the 120-Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

Orbach withdrew his critical vote to support changing the Knesset speaker, that would allow the incoming coalition to control the agenda leading up to a vote of confidence in the new government expected on June 13.

Orbach said publicly “I know who Abbas is, I do not want to sit with him in one government,” and announced that if he decided not be part of the coalition he would resign his seat for someone else in the party. He later recanted after a massive social media campaign by the right-wing demanding he stay true to his convictions and remain in the party, Kan News reported.

Going in to the meeting at Bennett’s house, Orbach would only say that “meetings with the faction are always successful, it will be good.”

Lapid and Bennett want to replace Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin of Likud who is close to Netanyahu with somebody from their coalition, but lacking Orbach’s critical vote Levin remains in charge of the House. Levin demanded the two submit their coalition agreement to him as speaker of the house, which would also give Likud and other opponents a chance to publicly exploit any written agreements for concessions to Arab or left-wing parties that could thwart an expected vote in the Knesset later this month.

“The agreements should be submitted to the Knesset Secretariat immediately upon their signing,” said Levin said. Coalition members fear that Levin do as much as possible to postpone the plenary session in which the new government will be sworn in – thus allowing the continued public pressure Bennett’s party as well as the right-wing New Hope party led by Gideon Saar, who earlier this year bolted Likud in a bid to oust Netanyahu.

The Likud is also trying to convince New Hope members Ze’ev Elkin and Sharren Haskel, both former Likud members who sided with Elkin, to defect back to their home party.

A surprise angle that opponents to Lapid and Bennett might take the Arab angle, hoping that both opponents and followers of Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas may object to any concessions he may have made in supporting a majority Jewish government.

Ra’am, a conservative religious Islamist party, is vehemently opposed to the gay rights agenda of the left-wing Meretz party, which is also in the coalition. Although the coalition agreement reportedly leaves LGBT issues off the government’s legislative agenda to ensure Ra’am support, Meretz leader Nizan Horowitz said his party had to stick its core goal of promoting LGBT issues.

Abbas has faced intensive pressure from within his own party for appearing to compromise with the Zionists, and there are still fears that if they are not careful on these issues in the coming days, any other three Ra’am Knesset members may oppose the formation of the government.