Right-wing vetoes on Arabs set to give Netanyahu first mandate

Tibi denies decision to back Lapid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to his supporters after the exit polls were announced for the election of the 24th Knesset, March 24, 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to his supporters after the exit polls were announced for the election of the 24th Knesset, March 24, 2021.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chances of receiving the first mandate to form a coalition from President Reuven Rivlin received a boost on Monday, when New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar and Yamina head Naftali Bennett ruled out a government backed by Arab parties.
Without the support of New Hope and Yamina, Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid would be left with the recommendations he has now from his Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beytenu, Labor and Meretz, and those he is expected to receive from Blue and White and five of the six MKs in the Joint List, for a total of 50 MKs.
Netanyahu has the endorsements of his Likud, Shas and the Religious Zionist Party, and United Torah Judaism is expected to join, giving him 52.
If United Arab List (Ra’am) head Mansour Abbas makes clear to Rivlin that he could work with either side, and Sa’ar and Bennett tell the president they can work with neither, Rivlin may have no choice but to give Netanyahu the mandate.
When Sa’ar spoke to Bennett on Sunday night, he expressed anger that he had found out from the press that Lapid had met with Abbas instead of trying to woo Bennett. Sa’ar had told Lapid before that he was unlikely to back him without Bennett.
But Lapid has not reached out to Bennett, because Bennett has made clear that he will only enable the formation of a government that is not led by Netanyahu if he himself leads it. There has been no contact between Lapid and Bennett since the election, except a quick call from Bennett in which he wished Lapid a happy Passover.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz reached out to Lapid, Bennett and Sa’ar on Monday, calling for an urgent four-way meeting to find the way toward resolution of the political crisis and Netanyahu’s replacement. He called on Sa’ar and Bennett not to rule out a coalition with parties in the bloc, a reference to the Joint List and Ra’am.
“I’ve called upon the leaders of the pro-change bloc to sit down as soon as possible so that we can get an honest government in place and end the Netanyahu era,” Gantz said. “When I meet with them, I will tell them that it is okay to have principles, but it is also necessary to display the flexibility needed to enable the formation of a government and the replacement of Netanyahu.”
The Joint List is set to meet with Lapid on either Wednesday or Thursday. Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi said in an interview with Channel 13 News on Monday that the party intends to first attend the meeting, present its demands, and only then decide who, and if, it will recommend to the president to form a government.
A KAN News report said that five out of six members of the faction – essentially all members but Balad’s Sami Abou Shehadeh – will recommend Lapid to be given the mandate to form a government. Tibi told The Jerusalem Post that the report was incorrect, and that even if Lapid accepted all the Joint List’s demands, its recommendation could not be taken for granted.
When asked in an interview on Kan Reshet Bet whether he will recommend any candidate, Abou Shehadeh said that he will first discuss the move with his faction colleagues, and “try to convince them that there is no use in recommending anyone – we need to recommend a candidate who believes in our agenda.” But he acknowledged that there is no such candidate.
Tibi called reports that he is not ruling out the option that he will be a part of a government led by Bennett “science fiction.”
Meretz is not ruling out supporting Bennett or Sa’ar as prime minister, MK Tamar Zandberg told 103FM on Monday.
“It is very natural for us to recommend Lapid,” she said. “Bennett and Sa’ar? We are not ruling out options that we may not have imagined before.”
Labor leader Merav Michaeli announced on Monday that her party will not join any coalition without a proper plan for preventing cases of sexual violence. Michaeli referred to the case of five men from northern Israel who were indicted on Monday for allegedly participating in a gang rape of a disabled 16-year-old girl.
“It’s time for the government to start providing the police, the attorney’s office, the courts and civil organizations the tools to prevent and treat cases of sexual abuse,” Michaeli wrote on Twitter.
Rivlin will commence consultations on Monday with all parties elected to the Knesset to form a new government. This is also the day the trial of Netanyahu for alleged corruption and breach of trust is meant to resume. Rivlin will then talk with the candidates recommended by the parties to be entrusted with forming a government, and he is expected to choose one MK with the task on Wednesday.
Hagay Hacohen and Tobias Siegal contributed to this report.