Netanyahu urges his right-wing rivals to ‘return home’ and ‘form a
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on his right-wing political rivals on Wednesday evening to put aside their past conflicts and form a new government following the March 23 election.
While addressing the media for the first time since last week’s election, Netanyahu urged Naftali Bennett of the Yamina party and New Hope chairman Gideon Sa’ar to join the premier’s religious allies in cobbling together Israel’s next coalition government, which he said would command a healthy “65-seat” majority in the Knesset (Israel Parliament).
Unlike the previous three elections, Netanyahu said, “the people made their will known clearly… The public gave the right-wing parties a clear majority — of 65 seats.”
“I appeal to you Naftali Bennett and Gideon Saar,” Netanyahu continued, “it’s no secret that we’ve had differences over the years, but we’ve known how to get over them and work together for the benefit of Israel’s citizens.”
“Let’s unify together and build a stable national government… a unified, stable, right-wing government that will look after, as we always have, all the citizens of Israel,” he added.
Netanyahu’s Likud party won 30 seats following last week’s vote, far exceeding second-place finisher Yesh Atid, headed by opposition leader Yair Lapid (17).
But Sa’ar, a Likud party defector whose New Hope party earned a disappointing 6 seats in the election, has staunchly refused to sit in a government headed by Netanyahu, who is currently standing trial on a number of corruption charges. (The premier vociferously denies all wrongdoing).
Bennett, meanwhile, has said his Yamina party (7) is keeping its options open but has vowed not to sit in a government headed by the centrist Yesh Atid party.
Recent reports suggest, however, that Bennett, a former close aide of Netanyahu, is willing to agree to join forces with Lapid on the condition that he be seated first in a possible rotation deal for the premiership.
As for the Yesh Atid camp, party officials told Hebrew media sources on Wednesday that Lapid may be open to such an agreement, but stressed that the former Finance Minister must be tasked with forming the next government.
The Yesh Atid officials, according to Ynet News, fear that Bennett may simply abandon his commitments to the so-called “change bloc” – parties dedicated to ousting Netanyahu from office – and form a government with Likud if allowed to steer government talks.
“Bennett does not really want to replace Netanyahu,” the Yesh Atid officials said, adding that “he will accept the mandate [to form a government] and run away to [the prime minister].”
With Likud’s 30 seats, Netanyahu has already won pledges of support from the ultra-Orthodox Shas (9) and United Torah Judaism (7) parties, along with the far-right Religious Zionism (6) slate, leaving him with 52 seats.