Netanyahu to start coalition talks to form right-wing government

Bennett, Lapid negotiating in hopes of PM’s failure

President Reuven Rivlin grants mandate to form a government to Netanyahu, April 6, 2021 (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin grants mandate to form a government to Netanyahu, April 6, 2021
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mandate from President Reuven Rivlin to form a government will expire at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday night without success in building a coalition, barring an unexpected last-minute development.
Rivlin will invite the factions on Wednesday morning to call him if they have new recommendations to form a government. Even if the Likud and its satellite parties recommend Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett to form a government, Rivlin’s second mandate will most likely go to Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid on Wednesday night or Thursday, sources who spoke with Rivlin said.
“The president does not intend to fall prey to a dirty political maneuver,” a source who spoke with Rivlin said, suggesting that a Netanyahu recommendation of Bennett would fall into that category.
Technically, Rivlin could extend Netanyahu’s mandate by up to two weeks or give the mandate to the Knesset instead of a new candidate. But both of those options are very unlikely, and Rivlin believes giving the mandate to the Knesset would be an endorsement of a fifth election in two and a half years.
On Monday, Lapid told his faction he would receive the mandate from Rivlin and enable Bennett to form a unity government. Bennett started to lay the groundwork for that possibility when he told his faction that if any MK in Yamina had a problem with him forming a unity government, they should quit immediately.
Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked was caught on tape by Channel 12 telling a confidant that if Bennett received the mandate from Rivlin, he would try to form a right-wing government. But if he failed, he would try to woo the Religious Zionist Party to a unity government so he would not have to rely on the outside backing of the Ra’am Party (United Arab List), she said.
Shaked revealed that she tried unsuccessfully to woo New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar to a coalition with Netanyahu. She called Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, “dictators who are unwilling to leave.”
Netanyahu delivered a long-awaited offer to Bennett of a rotation agreement for the first time. Bennett would serve as prime minister for a year, and then Netanyahu would return to lead the government, according to the offer.
“In order to prevent the formation of a left-wing government, I told Naftali Bennett that I would be willing to accept his request for a rotation agreement in which he would serve as prime minister for a year,” Netanyahu said. “Yamina members would receive important posts in the government and the Knesset. And if we, God forbid, do not form a government, although I don’t think it would come to that, we would run on a combined list for the Knesset in which his entire party maintains its identity and its relative power.”
Netanyahu expressed confidence that if Bennett were to sign such a deal, a government could be formed, even though the Religious Zionist Party has not agreed to the external support of Ra’am.
“Bennett wrote 10 days ago that a right-wing government could be formed if I step aside for the first year,” Netanyahu said. “I moved. Now it’s your turn.”
Responding to Netanyahu, Bennett said the prime minister was just trying to blame him for his failure to build a government. Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich’s refusal to join Netanyahu’s government was the real problem, he said.
Bennett said his top priority remained forming a right-wing government, but the obstacle to forming a right-wing government is not Yamina.
“I didn’t ask him to head the government, but for there to be a government, and he doesn’t have one because of Smotrich,” he said. “Netanyahu formed a satellite party and lost control over it. Smotrich burned all bridges to a right-wing government.”
Netanyahu later tweeted that once Bennett committed himself to a right-wing government, others would join.
“They are waiting only for you,” he wrote. “The real obstacle to forming a right-wing government is your refusal to remove a left-wing government from the agenda and promise to join a right-wing government.”
If Netanyahu and Bennett were to set their egos aside, a right-wing government could be formed immediately, Smotrich told his faction on Monday.
Lapid told his Yesh Atid MKs that Bennett could trust him to keep his promise to go first in a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office, and he should not trust Netanyahu.
“What I offered will be kept, and what Netanyahu offered will never happen,” he said.
Lapid said he would not rule out a coalition with two Arab parties that would not include Yamina, adding that he did not want to “play games.”
New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar said there was no chance he would change his mind and join a government in which Netanyahu would serve as prime minister. There were those who said his refusal to join a Netanyahu-led government was because of personal reasons or because of ego, but it was really because of what he has done as prime minister, Sa’ar said.
“Netanyahu moving for a year to the post of alternate prime minister and then continuing as prime minister is not what New Hope voters voted for,” he told his faction. “New Hope voters voted for change.”
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman told his faction it was possible for all the parties in the anti-Netanyahu camp to form a government by Tuesday night.
Labor leader Merav Michaeli said she was sure a government of change could be formed immediately, and her party would not stand in its way.
Meretz MK Esawi Frej criticized Bennett at Meretz’s faction meeting, saying, “Bennett is not acting like a partner but like a vendor in the market.”