Ultra-Orthodox party reportedly tells Netanyahu: If you can’t form government, we’ll support someone else

The report claims the United Torah Judaism party has told Netanyahu that this is his last chance or they pull their support.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The ultra-Orthodox (haredi) parties that have been loyal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu through four elections in two years will not allow a fifth round if he fails to form a government, Kan News reported Wednesday.

Netanyahu met with the heads of Shas and the two factions that make up United Torah Judaism (UTJ) immediately upon getting President Reuven Rivlin’s nod Tuesday to create a coalition.

According to the report, at least one of the three told him that if he cannot get from the current 52 supporters to a majority of 61, they will support someone else rather than drag the country to the polls again.

“Throughout the last days the three leaders of the haredi parties stood behind Netanyahu and gave him all the support he asked for and wanted,” said reporter Michael Shemesh. “But today, when Netanyahu invites them for one-on-one, private meetings…he hears that the rope they’ve given him isn’t so long and that he’ll have to work fast. Their message to him: We won’t go with you to fifth elections… there is an alternative government that [Yemina head] Naftali Bennett would head.”

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Bennett’s seven-seat, right-wing faction is currently playing hard-to-get with the Likud, but even if it joined Netanyahu, the right-wing bloc still falls short by two Knesset seats. The current thinking, which at least some of the haredim seem to endorse, is that prospects of luring two more right-wingers from the opposition, or so-called ‘change’ bloc, are low.

And Bennett, they told Netanyahu according to Shemesh, “does not intend under any circumstances to give up the chance he has stumbled on to become prime minister of the State of Israel.”

Yemina was the only party to recommend to President Reuven Rivlin earlier this week that Bennett be given the first chance to form a government.

Bennett has also negotiated with Yair Lapid, whose center-Left Yesh Atid leads the opposition with 17 seats. Lapid confirmed on Monday that he had offered Bennett a rotation of the prime minister’s office in a government of “national agreement.” He said he was even willing for Bennett to take the first two years as head of state even though Yemina is so much smaller.

During the election campaign, Bennett had ruled out sitting in a Lapid-led government. It is even more difficult to see the haredi parties doing so, as Lapid has advanced policies antithetical to the haredim.

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MK Yaakov Litzman, who heads the Hasidic faction of UTJ, told the Kol Barama radio station Wednesday, “There is no chance of us sitting with Lapid or [anti-haredi Israel Beiteinu head Avigdor] Liberman. Anyone who says different is daydreaming.”

The Kikar Shabbat news site reported Thursday that UTJ publicly denied the report that a Bennett-led government is realistic to them, saying, “The report is wrong.”