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Netanyahu, Bennett to meet again after ‘positive’ talks at PM’s residence

As he sought a way to secure a ruling majority, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett on Thursday night in the first juxtaposition between the two, when the prime minister was tasked with forming a coalition.

The meeting, which began at 20.30, was held in the Prime Minister’s official residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street. After the meeting, Netanyahu’s Likud and Bennett’s Yamina parties issued a joint statement that there was a “positive atmosphere” and the two men would meet again.

It was the first time Bennett had gained access to the complex in over a decade due to past tensions between him and Netanyahu. The Prime Minister̵

7;s wife, Sara Netanyahu, has reportedly long vetoed Bennett’s entry. But now Netanyahu depends on Bennett’s support if he wants to keep his hopes of forming a government alive.

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In consultations Monday with President Reuven Rivlin, Netanyahu received the approval of representatives of 52 lawmakers, the largest of any candidate but short for a 120-seat majority in the Knesset. Yamina, with seven seats, recommended Bennett as prime minister, the only party to do so. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid received 45 connections. New Hope, Ra’am and the joint list of 16 seats in between, did not recommend any candidates for prime minister. On Tuesday, a reluctant Rivlin Netanyahu was tasked with forming a government.

Bennett said Tuesday he was open to talks with Likud and called for a right-wing government, but did not commit to supporting Netanyahu. Even with Yamina’s support, Netanyahu’s bloc would still be two seats below a majority with limited options.

Party leaders form a group photo after the inauguration of the 24th Knesset, April 6, 2021. From left are Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset President Yariv Levin (Marc Israel Sellem / POOL)

Speaking to reporters before entering the prime minister’s residence on Thursday, Bennett said he was committed to forming a government and avoiding new elections.

“I come here with a lot of goodwill and promise to do everything I can to save Israel from chaos and establish a good government for the state of Israel,” Bennett said. “It’s time for national responsibility.”

Since Netanyahu has been tasked with forming a government, he has met with the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, both of whom had endorsed him.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and then-Education Minister Naftali Bennett during a vote in the Knesset on 21 December 2016. (Yonatan Sindel / Flash90)

Before Thursday’s meeting with Bennett, Netanyahu met with MK Bezalel Smotrich, whose right-wing extremist religious Zionist party has sat down perfectly with the prime minister. However, it has also said it will not sit in a coalition supported by the Islamist Ra’am party, the seemingly only other option left for Netanyahu, with everyone else who has ruled out joining his coalition.

Speech Wednesday before meeting with Netanyahu, United Torah Judaism No. 2. Yaakov Litzman hinted at the possibility that religious Zionism could officially remain outside the government, while supporting it from the outside, in order not to be part of a coalition that was dependent on Arab Israeli parties. .

Party leader for religious Zionism Bezalel Smotrich at the party headquarters in Modi’in, election night March 23, 2021. (Sraya Diamant / Flash90)

But in a Thursday night interview before the meeting with Netanyahu, Smotrich said it was dangerous to form a government that was dependent on the “Arabs”.

“My goal is to be a right-wing government. A government with Arabs will not be able to do anything right-wing, “Smotrich told Radio 103.” Do you think Bibi will succeed in launching an operation in Gaza if there is a government with Abbas? You do not understand what it means to be a hostage, ”he said, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

Channel 12 News reported on Thursday that an option that Netanyahu was considering was trying to convince Smotrich and Ra’am to meet just by one vote: forming a coalition that then immediately falls and sends the country to its fifth election of 2, 5 years.

That would repeal the current coalition agreement that gives Benny Gantz’s Blue and White and his bloc 50 percent control over the government and a veto over critical issues. Perhaps even more markedly, it would remove the threat that Gantz would replace Netanyahu as prime minister on November 17, which will automatically happen if no new coalition is formed before then.

Despite Shas and UTJ’s public expression of support, TV reports said they told Netanyahu in their meeting with him that they would not go with him to the fifth election.

The Haredi parties noted Bennett’s possible chances of forming a government and predicted he would not give up the possibility of being prime minister, according to the public channel Kan.

Ahead of Bennett’s meeting with Netanyahu, the network on Thursday quoted an ultra-Orthodox party official as telling the Yamina party leader that they would consider joining a government without Netanyahu’s Likud, whose status quo on religious issues was maintained.

The parties would reportedly consider the possibility if Bennett manages to secure a government with secularists Lapid and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman will not change the current situation in terms of religion and state.

However, a report on Channel 12 News on Wednesday said the ultra-Orthodox parties had asked Netanyahu to do everything possible to prevent the formation of a government that would see Bennett and Lapid quit as prime minister. Lapid and the Haredi parties have long disagreed over the Yesh Atid chief’s support for introducing basic curriculum studies in ultra-Orthodox schools and ending carpet exemptions from compulsory military service for seminary students.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with fellow MKs during the inauguration ceremony of the 24th Knesset, April 6, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky / POOL)

While Lapid received significantly more support than Bennett, and his party has 17 seats to Yamina’s seven, he revealed on Tuesday that he offered Bennett to serve as prime minister first in a rotating government. In apparent response to Lapid, Bennett said he would not lead a left-wing coalition or abandon his principles.

New Hope, which fought to replace Netanyahu as prime minister, has also expressed support for a power-sharing agreement between Bennett and Lapid.

But throwing cold water on the idea that the Joint List could support such a coalition from the outside, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh said Thursday night that he would not support a government led by Bennett.

“Under no circumstances do we agree to support or allow the formation of a government led by Naftali Bennett,” Odeh told Arab radio Nas.

“We do not want to replace one racist with another racist,” he said.

If Netanyahu does not succeed in forming a government, the president can either give the person another try (for another 28 days and possibly another 14 days) or send the mandate back to the Knesset, giving the legislature 21 days to agree on a candidate who supported by 61 MKs.

If the President appoints another person and this person does not form a coalition, the mandate automatically returns to the Knesset during the 21-day term. During this time, any MK is entitled to try to form a government.

Rivlin has indicated that he may not give the mandate to another candidate if Netanyahu fails, but rather immediately send it back to the Knesset.

At the end of the 21-day period, if no candidate of 61 MK members has been agreed, the new Knesset will automatically go out and the country will move on to another election, the fifth in less than three years.

Neither the pro- nor anti-Netanyahu bloc currently has a clear path to a coalition majority.

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