Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid spoke just before Shabbat, and according to Kan 11 News Saturday night, Bennett told his team that he would decide either Saturday night or Sunday whether or not to sign with Lapid and the left-wing parties, a.k.a. the anti-Netanyahu bloc. The dispute between Bennett and his ally of many years, MK Ayelet Shaked, is that she still believes there’s a chance for a right-wing government with Gideon Sa’ar, while Bennett is certain there is none.
And so, should an agreement be reached between Lapid et al and Bennett and Sa’ar, barring a last-minute blowout and another Bennett zag following his zag, it appears that Naftali Bennett will be the next prime minister of a unity government through September 2023, at which point he would be replaced by Lapid through November 2025.
It’s probably the most improbable Israeli government, stretching from Yamina and New Hope that are to the right of Likud, to Meretz, which is to the left of Joseph Stalin, with parliamentary support from the Islamic party Ra’am. But despite appearances, this party has a good chance to survive for at least its first two years, because if it doesn’t, Bennett would become the caretaker prime minister, endowing him with all the power and influence of his office during the election campaign. So the left and Lapid’s Yesh Atid will do everything in their power not to destabilize this coalition government.
According to Maariv, these are the planned portfolios in Bennett’s government:
- Prime Minister: Naftali Bennett (Yamina)
- Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid)
- Defense: Benny Gantz (Blue&White)
- Finance: Avigdor Liberman (Israel Beiteinu)
- Justice: Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope)
- Interior: Ayelet Shaked (Yamina)
- Transportation: Merav Michaeli (Labor)
- Education: Yifat Shasha Bitton (New Hope)
- Internal Security: Omer Bar-Lev (Labor)
- Diaspora: Gilad Kariv (Labor)
- Health: Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz)
- Environmental Protection: Tamar Zandberg (Meretz)
- Immigration and Absorption / Welfare: Pnina Temano Sheta (Blue&White)
- Regional Cooperation: Issawi Frej (Meretz)
- Culture: Hili Trooper (Blue&White)
- Religion: Matan Kahana (Yamina)
- Communications: Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid)
- Agriculture: Alon Schuster Agriculture (Blue&White)
- Development of the Negev and the Galilee: Israel Beiteinu
Speaker of the Knesset: Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid).
MK Issawi Frej estimated Saturday night that the formation of the Bennett-Lapid government is closer than ever. “It seems to me that we are heading for a change government, an interesting government that will bring an end to the existing anarchy, and a government of repair. But it’s not over until it’s over,” Frej said because neither Hebrew nor Arabic has anything to say about the fat ladies singing.
Frej also said that Yesh Lapid chairman Yair Lapid is showing unprecedented maturity and leadership.
As for his own nomination to the post of Minister of Regional Cooperation, the Arab Meretz MK said: “My dream is to heal the wounds between the Arabs and the Jews.” He also said that he would work to make Israel an integral part of the Middle East.
It should be noted that MK Frej is probably more involved than any other Arab MK in promoting the real interests of Israeli Arabs. He served as chairman of the lobby for the advancement of the high-tech industry in the Arab sector, and the Lobby for the advancement of employment in the Arab sector. He also served in 2017 as a member of the Knesset Security and Foreign Affairs committee – an unusual appointment for an Arab MK.
Meanwhile, Ra’am members told Kan 11 they were concerned that Bennett would get cold feet at the last minute and walk away from a government with Lapid. But should he opt to serve as the next PM, Ra’am expects to be rewarded for its support with the chairmanship of the Interior Committee – where it could move aggressively to kill the Kaminitz Law that facilitates strict control over illegal Arab construction; as well as a committee to deal with the affairs of Arab society.
Some members of the Joint Arab List would like very much to join the Bennett-Lapid government via parliamentary support, but the chances that Bennett or Sa’ar would consent to this are nil.
Now for a dose of reality: so far, Lapid has signed agreements with Meretz, Labor, and Israel Beiteinu, which assured him the support of 37 MKs in total. Blue&White is expected to deliver 8 votes, Yamina 6 (the party won 7, but one member, Amichai Chikli, refuses to endorse a pact with the left), and New Hope 6. That’s 57, plus Ra’am’s assured abstention of 4 seats, gives this strange Lego government the desired 61 seats.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, has been attempting to lure Gideon Sa’ar into his coalition, refusing to take no for an answer. Sa’ar, a life-long Likudnic, appears determined to oust Netanyahu – as he promised his voters, which are for the most part disappointed former Likud members. Just as Bennett could lose his political career should he use his right-wing vote to create a left-wing government, so would Sa’ar lose his career should he renege on the central promise of his campaign – to get rid of Bibi.