A new Israeli government may be sworn in as soon as Wednesday after securing a coalition to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Party leaders will meet Sunday to finalize the coalition deal, with Yamina party leader Naftali expected to announce that all of his party members save one lawmaker Amichai Shikli will support the deal.
Meanwhile, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is expected to maintain the pressure on Yamina lawmakers in an effort to thwart the new government. In recent days, Likud lawmakers have called on demonstrators to rally outside the homes of several such politicians.
Naftali Bennett, who is on track to become Israel’s 13th prime minister within days, is easily labeled – religious hard-liner, ultranationalist and settler leader on the one hand, high-tech millionaire, special-forces operative and political wunderkind on the other. Most of these labels, on closer scrutiny, don’t really apply. At least not fully.
Bennett at 49 is the man who has come closest to the holy grail of Israeli politics, replacing Benjamin Netanyahu, but he’s not really a politician, certainly not a consistent one. In the last 14 years he has been in five different parties. He entered the Knesset for the first time just eight years ago, and just two years ago one of his parties even failed to cross the electoral threshold. Now he’s about to become prime minister and his current party, Yamina, is falling apart with half its members having either defected or considering it.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried what he described as election fraud on an unprecedented scale on Sunday, describing the results of last week’s coalition negotiations which led to the establishment of a change bloc with a slim Knesset majority as an attack on Israeli democracy itself.
Speaking at a Likud party faction meeting in the Knesset on Sunday, Netanyahu asserted that Israelis were “witnessing the biggest election fraud in the history of the country, in my opinion in the history of democracy.”
Warning that the hour is late but “not too late,” the prime minister called on lawmakers to vote against the establishment of what he termed a “dangerous left-wing government” backed by “terror supporters” which would not be able to stand up to American pressure to divide Jerusalem or stand up against Iran.
“This is a government that will not be able to resist the return of the United States to the dangerous nuclear agreement with Iran, which will allow it to develop an arsenal of nuclear bombs that will threaten our very existence,” he declared, adding that a “government that depends on supporters of terrorism will also not be able to act in a systematic and consistent manner against the terrorist organizations in Gaza.”
“There was a poll that showed that close to 70% of right-wing voters do not want the government, and 95.5% of left-wing voters want the left-wing government. So if it sounds like the left, acts like the left, moves like the left – it’s left,” he said. “So it is said that there are supposedly right-wing parties, but these are right-wing and left-wing parties that have misled voters.”
Netanyahu also condemned rising incitement in Israeli politics but insisted that the right was being unfairly targeted and censored, especially by social media companies. He complained that while posts calling for demonstrations outside the homes of Yamina lawmakers were taken down because they contained personal information, posts calling for anti-Netanyahu demonstrations were allowed to remain online.
Netanyahu’s rhetoric was similar to that of Transportation Minister Miri Regev, who wrote on Facebook on Saturday in response to criticism of Likud protests outside the home of Yamina lawmaker Nir Orbach that “we will continue to protest the theft of right-wing votes in a democratic and dignified manner, without violence.”
“After years in which left-wing demonstrations took place unhindered in Balfour, Petah Tikva and in front of my home, even in the midst of an epidemic, there is no room for closing mouths and violating the right to protest, while painting the right-wing camp as violent and dangerous.”
On Thursday, Netanyahu’s Likud party called on its supporters to demonstrate outside the homes of Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked, second on the party’s election slate, and Nir Orbach, who has expressed reservations about supporting his party’s chosen course. Shaked was recently assigned a security detail after the Shin Bet warned of a rise in incitement against her, as were Bennett and Lapid.
Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich addressed Yamina MK Nir Orbach on Sunday, accusing him of planning a settler “disengagement plan on steroids,” in a bid to increase pressure on the undecided lawmaker days before the Knesset is set to swear in the new government. Smotrich also accused Orbach of forming a “left wing government with terrorist supporters,” referencing the United Arab List headed by Mansour Abbas. This statement comes after the Knesset security officer ordered, in coordination with the police, a security detail for Orbach and fellow Yamina lawmaker Idit Silman following the party’s signing of a coalition deal with Yesh Atid.
Shin Bet Chief Nadav Argaman warned against incitement on Saturday, saying that it could lead to someone being physically harmed. On Thursday, the Shin Bet assigned a security detail to Bennett for the first time, after Bennett and Lapid announced they had formed a government. This move is unusual as Israel’s internal security service only protects the prime minister, president and leader of the opposition.
The Knesset security officer ordered on Sunday, in coordination with the police, a security detail for Yamina lawmakers Nir Orbach and Idit Silman, in light of incitement against lawmakers following the party’s signing of a coalition deal with Yesh Atid.
On Thursday, the Shin Bet security service assigned a security detail to the party’s chairman, Naftali Bennett, after he and Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid announced they had formed a government. This move is unusual; Israel’s internal security service only protects the prime minister, president and leader of the opposition.
On Saturday, Shin Bet Chief Nadav Argaman warned against incitement, saying that it could lead to someone being physically harmed, as vitriol surrounding the political situation in Israel reaches a peak. “As someone who leads an organization meant to protect the nation’s security, democratic regime and institutions, I am calling and warning that this discourse may be interpreted by certain groups or lone wolves as permission for violence and illegal activity that could lead to physical harm,” Argaman said.
Last week, the Shin Bet warned of an uptick in incitement against Bennett, Lapid, and Yamina lawmaker Ayelet Shaked. Their security level was raised to 5 – one less than the highest possible designation. Lapid’s security is more intense than it was when he served as opposition leader. The rest of the Knesset members are secured by the Knesset guards.
The Likud party will meet at 2:00 P.M. in the Knesset on Sunday. Beforehand, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will give a speech to the press.
Party leaders of the anti-Netanyahu bloc are expected to meet at 5:00 P.M. on Sunday to finalize the coalition deal between the ideologically disparate parties.
Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett is expected to announce that all of his party members – save lawmaker Amichai Shikli, who has already expressed his opposition – will support the deal. Another Yamina lawmaker, Nir Orbach, will allegedly decide later whether to support or reject the new coalition deal, but party sources say Orbach will likely vote to support it.
On Friday, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin (Likud) announced that he intends to announce to the Knesset plenum on Monday that Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid has succeeded in forming a government, which means that the government will be sworn in by the following Monday at the latest. However, Levin did not announce when the vote will take place; it may be held much earlier. Bennett and Lapid will not advance the plans to replace Levin with Mickey Levy of Yesh Atid at this point.