Bennett Holds First-Time Meeting with Ra’am Leader

YERUSHALAYIM -
bennett prime minister
Head of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett speaks at the Knesset, Monday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Another right-wing leader has begun talks with Ra’am party chief Mansour Abbas, as Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett met with Abbas Wednesday, the first-ever direct contact between the two, according to The Times of Israel.

Prior to this, Abbas has been in contact with the Likud and the center-left opposition, but now it appears that Bennett’s maneuvering for a unity government might include the Islamist party.

Ra’am said in a statement following the meeting at Bennett’s Knesset office that the discussion dealt with the positions of both parties regarding the current political events, and was “conducted in a positive atmosphere.”

It was but one of various conversations taking place. An unnamed member of the so-called “change bloc” was quoted by Channel 12 news as saying “significant progress” had been made in coalition talks over the previous day.

After meeting Abbas, Bennett reportedly met New Hope party leader Gideon Saar, while the latter’s No. 2, Ze’ev Elkin, conferred with Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid.

As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‏‏’s prospects of forming a government dwindle, efforts to put together an alternative coalition of the left-center-right are ongoing, though large ideological differences cast doubt on any realistic alliance.

Religious Zionism party head Betzalel Smotrich, who effectively blocked Netanyahu’s bid to bring Abbas around to supporting his coalition, condemned the Bennett-Abbas meeting as well.

“A government with Abbas is like a government with Hamas,” said Smotrich of the party that is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and rejects Zionism.

Smotrich warned that Bennett would become an outcast on the right if he formed a government with Ra’am, much as former premier Ariel Sharon was after he evacuated the communities in Gush Katif from Gaza in 2005.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has six days left to form a government. If, as expected, he fails to do so, President Reuven Rivlin will likely turn to Yair Lapid or Naftali Bennett.