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Former Likud ally joins opposition and ‘prepares for day after Netanyahu”

Israel’s 35th government is slated to be officially sworn in on Wednesday (13 May), when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will take office without the support of one of his formerly-staunchest political partners – Yamina.

The national religious party released a statement accusing the Prime Minister of “blatant disrespect for Yamina and its voters” and advancing “emerging policies that appear to make it [the coalition] a left-wing government.”

As a result, “the Yamina party has decided to serve the public during the upcoming term from the opposition, where it will fight on behalf of the nationalist camp,” read the statement, which was issued soon after the dissolution of negotiations to prospectively join the “national emergency” government.”

The faction also bitterly alleged that Netanyahu “chose to dismantle the right-wing bloc and his partnership with Yamina.”

Yamina is led by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and consists of a shifting political alliance of right-wing to far-right parties. Its current configuration was formed in the run-up to the 2020 parliamentary election and includes the New Right, The Jewish Home and Tkuma.

6 Yamina Members of Knesset (MKs) were elected in the 2 March balloting to serve in the 120-seat plenum. Self-defined pillars of the list are Zionist, Religious Zionist, nationally conservative, economically liberal, judicially restrained, and representative of Orthodox Jewish and settler interests.

The New Right (HaYamin HeHadash) was established in 2018 and Co-Chaired by Bennett and  former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. The Jewish Home (HaBayit HaYehudi) was formed in 2008 and headed by interim Minister of Education Rafi Peretz. Tkuma was founded in 1998 and is led by Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

In an exclusive interview with TV7, Yamina Spokesperson Moshe Basos said that his faction “very much wanted to be part of the coalition,” but that neither Netanyahu nor Likud has engaged in direct negotiations for nearly 2 months. Disputing local reports that Likud and Yamina held talks this past weekend, Basos told TV7 that the only communication between the two sides has shockingly only been passed by journalists.

According to the coalition deal signed 20 April by Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz, the allocation of ministries would be divided equally between their respective Likud and Blue and White factions. Yamina had been offered the Education and Jerusalem Portfolios about a month ago, rather than more powerful ministries such as Foreign Affairs, Defense or Health. “If Prime Minister Netanyahu offers me the Health Ministry and to manage the coronavirus campaign, I’ll rise to the mission,” Bennett wrote on Twitter last week.

According to the Yamina Spokesperson, no such offer was forthcoming. After the party announced its intention to enter the opposition, the Likud hit back with allegations that Yamina is more interested in winning ministerial positions than ideology, rhetorically asking, “If Yamina had been given another post, then would they have considered the government to be right-wing?”

It should be noted that the 3-member left-wing Labor Party will be participating in the government, for the first time since 2013. Party leader and former Netanyahu rival Amir Peretz is reportedly slated to become Economy and Industry Minister and a member of the security cabinet, while Labor MK Itzik Shmuli will become Welfare Minister and member of the ministerial committee for legislation.

Basos reiterated Yamina’s conviction that Netanyahu is in fact “leading the government to the left.” Regarding suggestions that the right-wing faction may still join the government after passage of its first half-year “emergency coronavirus period” when the cabinet will be expanded from 32 to 36 ministers, the Yamina Spokesperson stressed to TV7 that, “It’s not about the ministries.”

“It is about influence. If Netanyahu had wanted us to be part of the government, he would have ensured our party was given greater consideration,” said Basos, as it had been granted the Premier’s other natural coalition partners, Shas and the United Torah Judaism, with 8 seats each.

When TV7 asked about Likud efforts to drive a wedge between the Yamina partners, the Spokesperson revealed that even though no negotiations were held with party leader Bennett – that the Prime Minister’s delegation did make overatures to Bennett-allies Peretz and Smotrich. Any attempts by Netanyahu to break apart the party’s alliance “will never happen,” read the Yamina statement. Basos expressed Yamina’s hope that perhaps Netanyahu would take the party more seriously once he understands its commitment to remaining a formidable, unified bloc.

According to the coalition deal, Netanyahu will sit at the helm of the government for the first 18 months after which the reins of power will be transferred to Gantz. When Netanyahu was endorsed last Thursday (7 May) as Premier by 72 Knesset members, Yamina’s  MKs were not among the signatories despite having unwaveringly supported the Likud leader throughout Israel’s unprecedented three previous election campaigns.

“Yamina will prepare for the day after Netanyahu, which will come in a year and a half, and from the opposition produce a real, right-wing alternative,” the party statement vowed, adding “A right-wing that is not ready to sell the justice system to the left for personal survival; a right wing that is unwilling to back down against Hamas and [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen; a right-wing that is truly committed to the development and legalization of settlement; a right wing that does not sell Judaism to special interests or the Israeli economy to Amir Peretz and the Histadrut labor union; a right-wing that does not throw in the towel in the struggle to remove infiltrators and rehabilitate neighborhoods [inundated by illegal migrants].”

One important exception to Yamina’s anti-government stance concerns Israel’s annexation of the West Bank, which Netanyahu has suggested could come as early as July. The party statement underscored that it will fight the current government “responsibly,” and therefore vote in support of such a development. It would continue, however, to oppose the establishment of any Palestinian state, such as the semi-autonomous, contiguous one envisioned in the United States Mideast Peace Plan.

“We do not regret for a moment the loyalty we have shown to the right-wing bloc over the past year. Joining the opposition at this time reflects our loyalty to the right-wing public, to which Netanyahu no longer loyal,” concluded the Yamina statement.

— By Erin Viner