Netanyahu opponents bickering over who gets to form government

Lapid, Bennett both eyeing prime minister’s seat as parties haggle over how to form a majority coalition government.

By World Israel News Staff

Leaders of Israeli political parties squabbled amongst themselves Monday as they jockeyed for position, seeking to come up with a candidate to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of Israel’s inconclusive national elections.

Delegations from all 13 parties that won seats in last week’s election will be invited to meet with President Reuven Rivlin beginning on Tuesday to give their recommendations of who they think stands the best chance of forming a majority government in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party won only 30 seats, the most of any party, but his potential coalition partners combine to give him only 52 seats, short of the majority needed.

The next-largest party, the center-left Yesh Atid, has 17 seats, and its leader, Yair Lapid, is meeting with the heads of other parties to gain their support.

Two small right-wing parties, Yemina headed by Naftali Bennett (7 seats) and New Hope led by former Likud member Gideon Saar (6 seats) are trying to nominate a right-wing candidate or arrange for a rotation where different party leaders will take turns in the prime minister’s seat, agreeing to share power in order to replace Netanyahu.

Lapid sees himself as the choice to replace Netanyahu, but sources in Yemina criticized him for reaching out to Arab parties for support.

“Lapid does not want a reconciliation government, but a left-wing government with the full support of the Arabs,” Yemina sources told Ynet. However, that could alienate both Bennett and Saar and leave Lapid short.

Nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Liberman announced earlier that he will recommend Lapid, who also met on the weekend with Labor Party leader Meirav Michaeli and United Arab List leader Mansour Abbas.

Bennett also sees himself as a replacement to Netanyahu, but it is not clear how the right-wing party head could convince the left-wing Labor (7 seats) and Meretz (6) to support him.

Senior officials in the New Hope party also criticized Lapid, saying that the Yesh Atid leader has to understand that his moves need to be coordinated with Bennett. The only way Lapid could form a government, they say, would be with both Yemina and New Hope – with Bennett serving for a set time as prime minister before Lapid.

“There is no possibility to form a government without Naftali Bennett being the first in the rotation,” the New Hope officials told Ynet. “Bennett needs to cross the lines and he will do so only if he will be first in the rotation. Lapid is doing damage in his attempts to form a government at any price, in partnership with the Arab parties. By doing so, he is pushing Bennett into Netanyahu’s arms.”

Earlier today, religious Shas Party leader Aryeh Deri confirmed he will nominate Netanyahu to form a government.

“Shas will recommend Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister as it pledged in the election campaign and will work to form a right-wing government that will preserve the Jewish identity of the state and work for the weaker sections [of society],” Deri said.

Deri called on “all right-wing parties, especially Yemina and New Hope, to transcend all other considerations and join the full right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Following his consultations with all parties, next Wednesday, March 7, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin will announce which candidate he will task with the job of trying to form a coalition government.