Yamina leader Naftali Bennett reportedly revealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when they met on Thursday night that he would be willing to give up his campaign promise to not sit in a government backed by the Ra’am (United Arab List) Party in order to prevent a fifth election.
Two days before the election, Bennett vowed to veto Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas as a coalition partner and dared Netanyahu to do the same. But now neither Netanyahu, nor the opposing political bloc, can form a government without Abbas.
Breaking the promise serves Bennett politically, because it could help him put the blame for Netanyahu failing to form a government on Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich, who is still ruling out Abbas. Legitimizing Abbas as a partner now could enable Bennett to do it again for a coalition he hopes to build himself after Netanyahu’s four-week mandate from President Reuven Rivlin runs out on May 4.
Bennett’s meeting with Netanyahu took place at the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. In what was seen as a charm offensive to woo Bennett, Netanyahu invited him there for the first time since he entered politics in 2012, before which the prime minister’s wife, Sara, banned him due to a personal dispute.
When arriving at the meeting, Bennett told reporters “I am arriving here with a lot of goodwill, and I promise to do everything I can to save Israel from the chaos and form a good and stable government for the State of Israel. This is the time for national responsibility.”
Sources close to Bennett said he would tell Netanyahu that he was not afraid of forming a government with the anti-Netanyahu bloc and that a fifth election was not an option.
Joint List leader Ayman Odeh ruled out supporting a government led by Bennett on Thursday, saying he “would not replace a racist with a racist,” but Abbas has not vetoed Bennett.
Netanyahu met earlier Thursday at the same site with Smotrich. A Religious Zionist Party spokesman said after the meeting that Netanyahu and Smotrich decided to work together to convince Bennett not to form what they called a “left-wing government,” but Netanyahu’s spokesman said afterward that the quote was inaccurate and unhelpful.
Smotrich’s spokesman said he told Netanyahu to try to get Bennett to woo New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar.
Sa’ar turned down an offer from Netanyahu’s political bloc on Thursday to enable the prime minister to form a temporary government.
According to the proposal, which was first reported by KAN Radio Knesset correspondent Ze’ev Kam, Netanyahu’s term would be set for a predetermined period of time and all the parties in his bloc would agree to never join a government led by him again.
Bills would be passed setting term limits for a prime minister, and the parties would tell Netanyahu that it would be his only option to stay in power. Sa’ar would be given credit for ending Netanyahu’s political career.
Sa’ar rejected the idea, saying his party’s view against joining a government led by Netanyahu was clear no matter how the question was asked.
One of his party’s MKs went further, sending laughing emojis in response to the proposal and comparing it to what Blue and White leader Benny Gantz accepted last year.
“These are the kind of solutions that Gantz likes,” the MK said. “He can tell you what happens” after such a deal is signed.