Members of Israeli right-wing Likud party have formulated a petition to pressure party chairman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to avoid entering a coalition with left-wing rivals Zionist Union and instead opt to form a unity government with Naftali Bennett’s far-right party Jewish Home.
The petition aims to steer Likud away from uniting with the left-wing bloc headed by March election runner-up Isaac Herzog, which was established in December 2014 when Herzog’s Labor Party merged with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah party.
Prime Minister Netanyahu had ruled out a coalition with the Zionist Union prior to the elections, and has since been reaching out to smaller right-wing parties to form a new government after Likud earned a surprise victory winning 30 out of 120 seats in the Israeli Knesset (Parliament).
However, disunity among the right-wing parties is making Netanyahu’s job of distributing government ministries extremely difficult as a deadline set by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to form a coalition fast approaches.
Jewish Home party leader, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who has expressed interest in taking control of the Foreign Ministry and Public Security Ministry, previously warned Netanyahu to keep his pre-election promise to abandon the two-state solution with the Palestinians.
“The entire world has heard Prime Minister Netanyahu's public statements, all along the campaign, and therefore we must make sure that the Jewish Home becomes a partner in the coalition, in any case,” Likud veteran and Rosh Ha'ayin Branch Chairman Mati Yitzchak was quoted saying by Arutz Sheva, adding many votes came from Jewish Home supporters living in the West Bank settlements.
"We must respect the will of the Israeli voter, who clearly chose a right-wing government.”
The petition, which was signed by Likud Central Committee members, calls on Netanyahu to avoid “any dialogue” with the Zionist Union and warns against repeating “past mistakes” by joining forces with parties that “turned against” Likud.
“The Prime Minister must include Jewish Home Party Chairman Naftali Bennett in the establishment of the government in a dignified way, as a partner who contributed much to the establishment of a nationalist government,” the petition states.
In a final desperate attempt to attract right-wing support ahead of the elections, Prime Minister Netanyahu said Palestinians would not get the independent state they seek in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza under his leadership.
However, shortly after being elected for a fourth term, Netanyahu softened his rhetoric and denied he had changed his previous policy for a two-state solution after receiving international condemnation.
"I haven't changed my policy. I never retracted my speech in Bar-Ilan University six years ago calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish State," Netanyahu said in an interview with NBC.
Netanyahu’s pre-election promises were slammed by the White House, which said his campaign for office was "divisive." The Obama administration also accused Netanyahu of abandoning his commitment to the decades-old policy to see the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
U.S.-Israeli relations have hit an all-time low as of late, with relations becoming even more strained when Netanyahu bypassed President Barack Obama and accepted a Republican invitation to speak to Congress two weeks before the Israeli election. Democratic leaders criticized the move, calling it an insult to the presidency and a breach of protocol as Obama’s permission was not sought before the invitation was extended.
The Obama administration later stated Washington will "re-assess" its policies on Israel following Netanyahu’s campaign.
The European Union also expressed concern over Netanyahu’s stance on the two-state solution as well as his pledge to build thousands of new homes for Jewish settlers in the illegally occupied east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of a future state.
In a statement it was confirmed EU Foreign Affairs chief Federica Mogherini telephoned Netanyahu to influence him the need to "relaunch" peace negotiations "based on a two-state solution."
However, Netanyahu, who owes much of his election success to the supporters of other right-wing parties who united their forces by voting for Likud to prevent election favorites Zionist Union coming to power, faces pressure at home to keep his pre-election promises if he wants to maintain right-wing support.
Overall, right-wing parties took 67 seats while the center-left and Arab parties took a total of 53. Netanyahu, who has been reaching out to the right-wing parties, needs a total of 61 seats to form his coalition.
If the responsibility of forming the coalition government is given to left-wing Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, who came second in the polls despite think-tanks noting him as the favorite to win the elections, he may reach out to Netanyahu’s Likud to form a coalition.
However, prior to the election, right-wing Likud ruled out entering into a coalition with Zionist Union. Zionist Union also rejected forming a coalition with third-placed pro-Arab party Joint List, which won 13 seats, thus limiting their options to smaller parties both left and right of the political spectrum.
Israel’s Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon, dubbed by Israeli media as a possible “kingmaker” ahead of the elections, boycotted talks to form the new coalition government after Prime Minister Netanyahu gave control of the Knesset Finance Committee to Moshe Gafni, the head of the United Torah Judaism party.
Kahlon, who is seeking Kulanu control of Israel’s Finance Ministry, also demanded his party be given the Knesset Finance Committee as a prerequisite to his cooperation with the new government.
Former Likud member Moshe Kahlon, who broke off to found his new fifth-placed Kulanu Party, is also seeking entry for fourth-placed centrist party Yesh Atid to Netanyahu’s coalition.
With 11 and 10 seats respectively, Yesh Atid and Kulanu have a combined 21 seats, and can therefore add considerable leverage to any coalition.
Although Likud vowed not to unite with Zionist Union ahead of the election, Likud member and Interior Minister Gilad Erdan suggested divisions among right-wing parties may force Likud to turn to their left-wing rivals in order to form a stable government.
However, Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio he would play no part in a coalition if it involves the Zionist Union.
Development of the Negev and Galilee Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) reassured on Channel Ten's "Central Headquarters" program that most ministerial portfolios had been settled and Netanyahu will meet President Rivlin’s deadline, set for early May.