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Netanyahu Offers to Step Aside, Let Bennett be PM First in Rotation Deal

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu

JERUSALEM, Israel – With just one day to go before his mandate to form a government expires, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he has offered to step aside and allow Yamina Party head Naftali Bennett to serve as prime minister first in a rotation agreement.  

“I told Naftali Bennett I am willing to accept his demand for a rotation deal in which he will serve first as prime minister for one year. Yamina party members will enter the government and Knesset with important roles,” Netanyahu wrote on social media.

“I urge him [Bennett] to sign a deal today on the formation of a right-wing government, and to commit that he won’t join any other government,” he added.

Netanyahu has until Tuesday to make a deal with Bennett and form a government. If he fails, President Reuven Rivlin may give Netanyahu’s rival, Yair Lapid from the centrist Blue and White party, the chance to form a stable government and serve as prime minister.

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After Netanyahu’s announcement, Bennett denied he asked for the premiership.

“I heard Netanyahu’s offer now, but it’s unclear. I didn’t ask for the premiership, but for a government — and this, unfortunately, he doesn’t have, because [Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich] burned the bridges leading to a right-wing government,” Bennett said, referring to the far-right leader’s refusal to form a government supported by the Islamist Ra’am party.

Both Netanyahu and the bloc of parties who oppose him need the Ra’am party’s support to pass the 61-seat threshold to form a majority government in Israel’s 120-seat parliament. After Israel’s fourth election in two years in March, neither Netanyahu nor his rivals won enough seats to form a government, and Ra’am emerged as an unexpected potential kingmaker.

Because Netanyahu’s Likud Party won the most seats during this year’s, President Rivlin gave Netanyahu the mandate to form a government, but he has been unable to do so.

Bennett said Monday that he prefers to form a right-wing government but refuses to commit to Netanyahu. He also hasn’t ruled out supporting Netanyahu’s rivals.

“If Netanyahu doesn’t manage to form a government, we will form a unity government,” Bennett said, referring to a government coalition with centrist, left-wing and right-wing parties. “The most destructive thing for Israel is more elections.”

As the clock runs out on Netanyahu, Lapid says he expects President Rivlin to task him with forming a stable government after Netanyahu’s mandate expires tomorrow.

“The foundations are ready. We can form a government. In one more day, if nothing surprising happens, we will be faced with two options: an Israeli national unity government, solid, decent and hard-working. Or fifth elections,” he said.

Lapid is also willing to form a government with Bennett and allow the Yamini leader to serve first in a premiership rotation deal.

“There is a historic opportunity. To break down the barriers at the heart of Israeli society. To unite religious and secular, left and right and center. It’s time to choose. Between a unity government or ongoing division. Between unity and rule by the extremes,” he said.

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