As the deadline to form a government dangerously approached midnight, Yair Lapid telephoned Reuven Rivlin at just before 11.30pm on Wednesday saying, “Mr President, I have a government.”
Sitting alongside Naftali Bennett and with a beaming smile, Lapid proceeded to name the eight parties that would support the coalition and then handed the telephone over to Bennett.
As one journalist tweeted, “If Israel gets a new government, it will be a coalition of religious nationalists, secular liberals, social democrats, liberal nationalists and Islamists – it might just work”.
But by Thursday afternoon, cracks in the foundation of the deal which were already there, increased, as a second Yamina Member of Knesset, Nir Orbach indicated he would not support the deal and opposed the ousting of the Likud Knesset Speaker, Yariv Levin.
If the “Change Bloc” cannot replace the speaker through a majority of 61 MK’s then Yariv Levin can delay the vote on the swearing-in of the new government and give the Likud vital time to convince right wing MK’s to break off.
Yamina’s seventh MK, Amichai Chikli had already announced he would vote against the planned government. If Orbach were also to do so, the new government would be denied its wafer-thin majority.
However, while 4 of the 6 MK’s in the Arab Joint List party stated that they will also vote against the planned government, the other 2 have not yet specified how they will vote.
The Lapid-Bennett government would include eight out of the 13 parties that passed the threshold last March: Yesh Atid (17 seats), Blue and White (8), Yisrael Beteinu (7), Labor (7), Yamina (7), New Hope (6), Meretz (6) and Ra’am (4) which reaches a total of 62 seats. But at least one Yamina MK and possibly two, will refuse to vote in favour of the new government.
In addition Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz announced he would improve LGBT rights in Israel, while the Arab Ra’am party said, it would oppose it.
A United Torah Judaism MK commented that Ra’am party head, Mansour Abbas will be the most religious person in the new government.
The razor-thin Right-Centre-Left-Islamist government of 61 seats was always going to be a challenge. But with several cracks now appearing before the Knesset vote of confidence has even taken place, it is becoming increasing difficult to predict the immediate future.
The next Knesset plenum session is on Monday 7 June when the current Knesset Speaker, Likud’s Yariv Levin, will formally be informed that he needs to schedule a vote on the new government. However Levin will delay the vote for as long as possible, probably a week or 10 days.
In the meantime, the Shin Bet has officially taken over the personal security for Prime Minister designate Naftali Bennett who will serve two years until September 2023, when Lapid will take over, until the end of the Knesset term in November 2025.
The agreement came together after Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas threw his support behind the would-be government late on Wednesday night, after receiving confirmation from the Islamist religious council.
Ra’am is expected to receive a Deputy Minister post, which will be the first time in Israeli history that an Arab party has been part of an Israel government coalition. Mansour Abbas is a dentist by profession and therefore is said to be experienced in filling in the holes.
- Abir Karo of Yamina said that Prime Minister Netanyahu is the champion of breaking promises and the blame with not forming a right-wing government is with Netanyahu and the Religious Zionist party head, Betzalel Smotrich. He said that the government being formed will be a stable government for four and a half years and will advance reforms for business owners.
- A survey quoted by Channel 12 last week found that 61% of Yamina voters said they would not vote again for Naftali Bennett’s party in light of his alliance with centre and left wing parties. A majority of Yamina voters would also prefer a fifth round of elections than the current government of Bennett and Lapid.
- Shas sources said that party leader Aryeh Deri could quit the Knesset if the party ends up in the opposition. In such a scenario Deri would continue to lead the Shas party, but from outside parliament.
- Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid previously cooperated in 2013 to create their own “brotherhood” alliance, which forced Netanyahu to form a government without the Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism.
- When Binyamin Netanyahu became leader of the Likud in 1992, Naftali Bennett supported him and was appointed his Chief of Staff when he became Prime Minister for the first time in 1996. Bennett even named his son Yonatan in 2005, after Netanyahu’s brother, the hero of the Entebbe raid.
- When Bennett first entered politics as an MK in 2013, Bennett’s goal was to eventually succeed Netanyahu as Prime Minister. But at the time, he never intended to oust him. Bennett was always of how much the Right respects Netanyahu and that ousting him could result in a permanent scar on his political resume.
- Bennett is a religious Zionist politician who staunchly opposes a Palestinian state and backs many right-wing policies. He is relatively liberal on religious issues and pragmatic on some others. He is seen as mostly independent of the rabbis he follows.
- Yair Lapid recently wrote that, “Politics and religion are a problematic mix and we have no interest in trampling on anyone,” adding that “the issues under dispute are clear to all the sides and now is the time to look for issues on which there is agreement.”