Netanyahu Demands Bennett Support Direct Election for Prime Minister

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press coneference at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‏‏ continued his attacks on Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett on Wednesday night, after Bennett made it clear that if Netanyahu couldn’t form a government, he would attempt one with Yair Lapid’s center-left bloc.

Netanyahu alleged that Bennett had already made a deal with Lapid that will install him as the “pinhead” prime minister of a left-wing government, pointing to the absurdity of the head of a party of a mere seven MKs leading a coalition.

“The majority of the public wants me to lead the country as head of a right-wing government,” Netanyahu, whose Likud has 30 MKs.

The prime minister challenged Bennett’s claim that a right-wing government is his priority and is considering an alliance with Lapid only as a last resort to avoid a fifth election.

״You are doing everything to not create a right-wing government,” Netanyahu asserted, addressing Bennett. “You’re prepared to do anything to become prime minister with just seven seats. And the only way for you to do that is to head a left-wing government of Lapid, Meretz and Labor with the support of the Joint List.”

“You call [what you’re negotiating with Lapid] a unity government.

“What misrepresentation. What a transparent effort to fool the public. It’s a government with 50 left-wing and extreme left-wing MKs, together with you, a pinhead, with seven seats. There’s been nothing like this in the history of the state. It’s a spit in the face of democracy, a spit in the face of the promises that you made not to sit with Lapid,” he said, referring to a signed commitment he made to that effect prior to the March 23 election.

Netanyahu pursued his initiative for direct election for prime minister as a way out of the political stalemate.

During his speech on Wednesday night, Netanyahu asserted that the winner of a direct prime ministerial election would “automatically” become prime minister, “he wouldn’t need the approval of the Knesset…as is the case in many democracies from Japan and New Zealand, to Norway and Portugal…”

“There is a solution here, in front of us, that doesn’t require Gideon [Sa’ar] or [Bezalel] Smotrich,” Netanyahu said. “A solution whereby the public simply determines who will be prime minister. And this solution depends only on you [Bennett]. If you vote in favor, it’ll have a majority.

“I ask you simply,” Netanyahu concluded, addressing Bennett directly: “Stop misleading the public. Stop playing games. Cancel your anti-democratic deal with Lapid for a left-wing government in opposition to the will of the people and your voters. Immediately support direct election for the prime minister. Only then can you call your party Yamina (Right) and not Smola (Left).

However, The Times of Israel pointed out that this is not the case in Israel, where the Basic Law requires that, in order to take office, a coalition must win a Knesset majority. That law would therefore also have to be amended, with the support of 61 members of Knesset.

Netanyahu also spoke on the phone during the day with Mansour Abbas, chairman of the Islamist Ra’am party.

“The two discussed current political issues, including the potential for forming a government, burning questions for Arab society and other political issues,” the Ra’am party declares in a terse statement.

The call came several days after Ra’am voted for the bill giving Lapid control of the Arrangements Committee, which will set the Knesset agenda during the interim government. It was setback for Netanyahu, who subsequently said that he did not need Ra’am to form a government.

The prime minister was also said to have talked with Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, Labor chair Merav Michaeli and Meretz chair Nitzan Horowitz, though no details were immediately available.