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‘Change bloc’ heads to meet Sunday; Yamina MK confident no more defections ahead

Prime minister-designate Naftali Bennett on Friday hosted members of his Yamina party in his Ra’anana home amid efforts to consolidate the support of all the party’s MKs for the emerging “change coalition” with the center and left, amid ongoing efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to peel away defectors.

Also Friday, Bennett and Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid called a Sunday evening meeting that will see the heads of all eight factions of the emerging “change government” meet together for the first time.

After the Yamina meeting ended, Yamina MK Abir Kara said it went “great.”

He expressed confidence that Bennett had managed to prevent any further potential defections from the party — including by MK Nir Orbach, who is reportedly on the fence — and could even manage to bring rebel MK Amichai Chikli back into the fold. Chikli, who has vowed to oppose the proposed government, did not attend Friday’s meeting.

“Bennett managed to keep everyone around him. Maybe we can get Chikli. I think it would be better for him to come with us too because he is another strong right-wing finger that can give us more strength and weight and be on the side that makes an impact,” Kara said.

Fellow Yamina MK Matan Kahana told Channel 12 news later Friday: “The feeling [at the meeting] was that we are going, united, to something that is very important to the State of Israel and we greatly want it to work. I’m sorry that Chikli made the decision he did,” Kahana added. “But Naftali Bennett and the rest of us are determined to pull Israel out of this insane chaos of endless elections, of rifts and division.”

The Bennett-Lapid coalition numbers 61 MKs in the 120-member Knesset, meaning that a single defection could prevent it from winning the parliamentary vote of confidence in needs to take power: Yesh Atid (17 seats), Blue and White (8), Yisrael Beytenu (7), Labor (7), Yamina (6 of its 7 MKs), New Hope (6), Meretz (6) and Ra’am (4).

Channel 12 news reported Friday that Orbach will announce his intentions at the beginning of next week.

Yamina MK Idit Silman, perceived by Likud as a possible weak link, said Friday afternoon that she would be backing the new government.

The meeting came after protests were held outside the homes of Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked and Orbach, in a campaign said to be orchestrated by incumbent Netanyahu to sway them away from the “change government.”

Hundreds took part in rallies outside their homes on Thursday night, a day after Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid officially declared that he could form a government. If formed, it would end the premier’s run of 12 consecutive years in office and relegate his Likud party and allied factions to the opposition.

On Friday, counter-protesters also showed up to support the new coalition — which will first be led by Bennett and then, from August 2023, by Lapid — with some holding up a banner reading: “Yes to a change government.”

Netanyahu’s Likud is also to meet Sunday. Netanyahu has urged all right-wingers in the “change coalition” to abandon it, and instead back him.

“We are of course fighting until the last moment,” Likud minister and close Netanyahu loyalist Tzachi Hanegbi said on Friday afternoon. “It’s not only about Netanyahu. We are a political camp with vast public support… If the government is sworn in, we’ll of course act, in opposition, according to all the well-known rules. [We’ll be] a fighting opposition. But until then, if there is a chance to prevent the establishment of a government based on votes that were stolen from the right, we of course will act to try to prevent it.”

The emerging government, Hanegbi said on Channel 12, “is likely to cause serious damage in the fields of security, diplomacy, and settlements.”

Regarding the burning of Bennett’s picture at recent demonstrations, and the cries of “traitor” directed against Yamina MKs and others in the emerging coalition, Hanegbi said “Any attempt to cause harm to people, with words or deeds, must be firmly condemned. Demonstrations outside homes are permissible … But I utterly reject personal abuse. This battle must be waged firmly without a descent into the personal level.”

If the effort to thwart the new government fails, Likud coalition chair Miki Zohar told Radio 103FM, “I am sure that all Israeli citizens will miss Netanyahu, both on the left and on the right, his leadership and his amazing actions that have maintained Israel’s security.”

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, also a Likud MK, publicly demanded that Lapid and Bennett immediately release the full text of the coalition agreements, which have remained unreleased as negotiations are expected to continue until the swearing-in.

The Yesh Atid and Yamina parties rejected the demand, saying in a joint statement that the agreements would be released to the public once they are finalized and signed.

Likud retorted with a tweet: “What do you mean ‘after they are signed’? You signed. Stop lying to the public.”

Coalition agreements only have to be published in full once they are submitted to the Knesset.

According to the still-unofficial coalition agreements, Lapid and Bennett agreed to allow additional parties to join the coalition after it is sworn in without the approval of all coalition parties, with Bennett’s goal being to get one of the ultra-Orthodox parties to join, the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported Friday.

In their statement, Yesh Atid and Yamina also called on Levin to convene the Knesset plenum immediately to allow the approval of the new government.

On Thursday morning, the “change bloc” parties submitted 61 signatures, demanding a vote on a new Knesset speaker early next week.

The move was intended to prevent Levin from stalling on a vote of confidence in the new government and to ensure that it happened next week, rather than the week after that.

Orbach’s signature had apparently been given to his party’s leaders, but on Thursday he quickly moved to withdraw his support. The Arab majority Joint List, which is not part of the coalition, then moved to prop up the effort by adding its own six votes to the bid.

But Yamina and Yesh Atid quickly distanced themselves from the Joint List’s backing, saying it had not been sought. Though Islamist party Ra’am is part of the new coalition, the Joint List is seen as less palatable to many right-wing members of the bloc.

Yamina then said it would only vote to replace the Knesset speaker once the government itself was approved.

As Knesset speaker, Levin can legally delay a vote on the new government for a week or more, giving Netanyahu’s Likud party more time to try to peel away rebels from the right-wing factions of the unity coalition.

Source: TOI

Header: A photo montage shows the leaders of parties in the prospective “change government” that Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid announced he can form on June 2, 2021. (Flash90)