JERUSALEM – In a stunning development that is shaking the Israeli political world, Knesset Member Naftali Bennett has announced that he is no longer willing to be part of a “change government” to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Hebrew and English media outlets in Israel began reporting the story early Thursday evening.
Naftali Bennett was poised to become Israel’s next prime minister in a “rotation” arrangement with current opposition leader Yair Lapid.
Under this arrangement, Bennett would have served as premier for two years, while Lapid served as foreign minister.
Then the two would switch for the remaining two years of the term.
The deal was always contingent on bringing an Israeli Arab party – Ra’am, led by Knesset Member Mansour Abbas – into the coalition.
Just days ago, both Bennett and Abbas seemed ready to sign on the dotted line with Lapid and announce the new government this week.
Then came the rocket war with Gaza and the brutal and bloody street fighting throughout Israel between Jewish and Arab extremists.
“I am removing the ‘change government’ from the agenda,” Bennett told reporters at a 9pm press conference. “A change government, with the makeup planned, cannot deal with the problems in mixed cities. These are things that cannot be done when relying on Mansour Abbas.”
“Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett has taken ‘off the table’ the option of forming a government without Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, due to the ongoing military conflict with Gaza terrorists,” reported the Times of Israel.
“Bennett explains in closed conversations that a government with Ra’am would not be able to deal with the current situation,” the Times reported. “He says the security situation is the top priority and that he is working to form a ‘broad national unity government. He is thus canceling all the agreements with Lapid and saying that ‘when there is a wave of pogroms by Arabs across the country, and when IDF forces must be involved, this is a reality-changing event.’”
“The change government being formed won’t be able to deal with it,” Bennett is saying privately, according to the Times’ source.
The Jerusalem Post reported that Abbas said Thursday morning in an interview that the violence in the mixed cities should not end the chances of forming a coalition that has the support of both Jewish and Arab Knesset Members.
But he said a coalition could not be established while the fighting is ongoing.
“I am not giving up on future cooperation,” Abbas said. “It could be that these incidents emphasize the need for true partnership with understanding, initiating together.”
Bennett is now renewing talks with Netanyahu’s Likud party.
In his own press conference, Lapid said, “Bennett is wrong.”
“I will continue turning over every stone to form a government. Change isn’t done when it’s convenient, it’s done when the path is the right one. I will keep working to form a government, and if needed, we will go to more elections and win.”
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.