Rightist Yamina Faction—Former Netanyahu Ally—Rejects Joining Unity Government

PM Netanyahu and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett won’t be on the same side in the next government. Illustrative of Netanyahu discussing security matters with Bennett and other security officials. Photo courtesy of Amos Ben-Gershom (Israel GPO).

The 14-day countdown for Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new unity government and avoid a fourth consecutive Israeli election is well underway—and while Netanyahu is expected to succeed, a traditional political ally won’t be joining him. The right-leaning “Yamina” political party led by current Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Sunday they would not join the unity government set to be led by Netanyahu’s Likud party and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, according to a report in The Times of Israel.

A unity government coalition is still expected to be formed, as the six-member Yamina party is not sizable enough a bloc to sway the majority of the 120-seat Knesset (parliament) one way or the other. However, it will look very different from years’ past, with the right-leaning Likud party heading a coalition joined by the moderate-to-left-leaning Blue and White party and a small bloc of left-leaning Knesset members including Labor party leader Amir Peretz. The orthodox religious parties of Shas and United Torah Judaism—two of the other traditional Netanyahu allies—are also expected to be part of the government.

The Times of Israel report quoted a statement from the Yamina party accusing Netanyahu of forming a government that appears to be “left-wing” while led by the right-leaning head of Likud. The Likud party fired back, claiming the Yamina party’s complaint was about proposed ministerial posts in a new government, rather than ideology. Likud pointed out that the new government plans to annex Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, a key right-wing priority. The Likud is by far the largest bloc in the new government, with right-leaning faction members outnumbering moderate-to-left-leaning members by more than a two-to-one ratio.

Yamina member Ayelet Shaked, according a Google translation of her Hebrew post on Twitter, accused Likud of effectively “unloading the right-wing bloc”. She also rejected the idea that Yamina—a combination of three different right-wing factions—could break apart with some groups joining the government and some moving to the opposition. She said Yamina is “one faction and so it will remain.”

The Times of Israel noted that Yamina could change its mind in the future and join the government as it expands following the emergency period dealing with the coronavirus crisis. In the meantime, Yamina said they were getting ready for “the day after Netanyahu” in 18 months, when Gantz takes over as prime minister as part of the unity government deal.

Last week, Netanyahu received the initial endorsement of 72 Knesset members who backed him as the next prime minister, according to a press release from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. The letter from Rivlin last Thursday notifying Netanyahu of the endorsement said he had 14 days to form a government.

One day later, Gantz took to Facebook, and in a Hebrew post translated into English, explained why he backed his rival Netanyahu to initially head up the unity government. Citing the coronavirus health concerns as well as economic impact of the country’s stay-at-home order, among other matters, Gantz said that unity is what “Israel wants” and Israel’s citizens “need.”

Wrote Gantz, “This will not be my dream government, surely not the expected size. This is probably not Netanyahu’s dream government either… It’s time to put aside everything, and focus on the good of the state of Israel.”

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, May 10, 2020)

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