The two political kingmakers, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and Ra’am (United Arab List) head Mansour Abbas, declined on Thursday to reveal who they will help form a government next week as they meet with President Reuven Rivlin to discuss the results of the March 23 election.
Bennett will hold long-awaited meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Yair Lapid over the weekend. On Thursday night, Bennett said that he would not recommend Yair Lapid to the president, making it harder for the Yesh Atid leader to receive the mandate to form a new government from Rivlin. While Bennett said he will not recommend Lapid, that does not mean that he will recommend Netanyahu. Political sources speculated that he would recommend himself.
Not recommending one of the candidates does not mean that he rules out sitting with them in the government. That will be determined in the coalition talks that follow the president’s decision.
The meeting with Netanyahu will take place on Friday at the Prime Minister’s Office and Lapid’s will be on Saturday night.
Lapid is expected to offer Bennett a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office in which Bennett would go first. Netanyahu is not likely to make such an offer, but his associates said he would welcome Bennett and Yamina into Likud with several reserved slots and other perks.
Abbas delivered a speech in Hebrew in Nazareth on Thursday night, in an effort to reach out to Jewish Israelis, but he did not reveal his political plans.
“I am not blinded by titles of kingmaker,” he said. “I don’t want to be part of a bloc on the Right or Left. I am my own bloc.”
Abbas said he was stretching out his arm toward coexistence within Israel. He made a point of not mentioning the Palestinians.
“What unites us is stronger than what divides us,” he said. “The time has come for listening to others.”
Netanyahu’s allies in the Religious Zionist Party have vetoed a government that relies on Abbas and Ra’am. But Abbas said he had no problem with them.
“I have not ruled out anyone,” Abbas said. “My approach is what can be done, not what can’t.”
Religious Zionist Party MK-elect Itamar Ben-Gvir said he had not changed his views. Ra’am’s connection to the Islamic Movement that supports Hamas cannot be forgotten. Abbas cannot make himself into a “Teddy bear.”
“A coalition relying on Ra’am would be the end of the Right,” Ben-Gvir warned.
Lapid met on Thursday with Joint List heads Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi and discussed ways to form a new government that would prevent Netanyahu from building a coalition with Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich and Ben-Gvir.
“The three discussed a range of painful issues affecting the Arab community, especially the scourge of violence, and possible solutions,” a Yesh Atid spokesman said. “They agreed to continue discussions to explore the options available to change both the current government and Netanyahu’s policies, and to bring about real change.”
Five of the Joint List’s six MKs are expected to endorse Lapid for prime minister. Balad head Sami Abou Shehadeh has announced that he and his party would not support anyone.
“Balad has not found any of the candidates to be close to the party’s platform, equality and a country for all of its citizens,” Abu Shehadeh said.