Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will host Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich followed by political kingmaker Naftali Bennett at his office in Jerusalem on Thursday evening, in meetings that could determine whether he has any chance of forming a government.
Sources close to Bennett said he will tell the prime minister he has his full support to form a government and is willing to compromise to make it happen. He will tell him that his plans to form a government in which he would rotate as prime minister with Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid are currently off the table.
“There are no contacts and no talks [with Lapid],” a source close to Bennett said. “We are working on building a government under Netanyahu and with his bloc. But it can only advance the moment that Smotrich will find a solution to his problem with Mansour Abbas.”
The sources admitted that Bennett does not believe Netanyahu will be able to form a government. They revealed that his goal in cooperating with Netanyahu was to ensure that Smotrich will take the fall for the prime minister’s failure to build a coalition and thereby legitimize Bennett’s attempt to form a government afterward with Lapid.
Smotrich has refused to enter a government that relies on the four MKs of Abbas’s Ra’am (United Arab List) Party, even from outside the coalition.
Lapid promised on Wednesday to form a government with a cross section of Israeli society after Netanyahu’s mandate ends on May 4. In a Facebook post, he complained that the media had been speculating about whether the next government would be right-wing or left-wing.
“The government that we are trying to form will have three right-wing parties (Yamina, New Hope and Yisrael Beytenu), two centrist parties (Yesh Atid and Blue and White), and two left-wing Zionist parties (Labor and Meretz),” Lapid wrote on Facebook. “This means that no one will get everything they want, but there will be balance that will require us to focus on practical goals: the budget, health, education and the urgent need to lower the flames in Israeli society.”
Lapid also pledged to change Israel’s system of government, which he said is flawed.
Netanyahu met on Tuesday with Shas leader Arye Deri and Wednesday with United Torah Judaism heads Ya’acov Litzman and Moshe Gafni. Coalition negotiating teams will be formed next week.
Gafni’s spokesman denied reports that the UTJ leader warned Netanyahu that his party would not enable the prime minister to embark on another election and hinted that he could join a government led by Bennett.
Litzman told reporters as he arrived at the Prime Minister’s Office that another election is a likely possibility.
Wednesday’s first meeting of the Knesset after Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony featured the first of what are expected to be many fights in the Knesset between MK Gilad Kariv, who is a Reform rabbi, and far-right-wing Orthodox MK Avi Maoz. Maoz told Kariv that all Jews are brothers, but there is no such thing as streams in Judaism.
After Tuesday’s controversy over Joint List MKs Ayman Odeh, Sami Abou Shahadeh, Aida Touma-Sliman and Ofer Cassif swearing to continue the struggle “against racism and occupation” instead of pledging loyalty to the state as MKs, they asked to be sworn in properly on Wednesday.
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin denied their request. They will be sworn in next Monday and will not be eligible for benefits as MKs until then.
Idan Zonshine contributed to this report.•