As the dust began to settle in the wake of Tuesday’s general election, Likud officials on Wednesday worked on two primary messages: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not be ousted as head of the party, and Likud won’t abandon the national-religious and ultra-Orthodox parties.
In the afternoon hours, Netanyahu convened a meeting with the heads of the Yamina and United Torah Judaism parties (Shas leader Aryeh Deri was at a memorial service for the late Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay), where it was decided that the parties would conduct coalition negotiations as one bloc. In a statement, Likud officials said a joint negotiating team, headed by Netanyahu, would work together to establish the next government.
During the meeting, Netanyahu said that he wasn’t worried about Israeli President Reuven Rivlin giving Blue and White leader Benny Gantz the mandate to form a government because nothing will come of it,” Israel Hayom reported.
“There’s no problem,” said Netanyahu, according to the report. “Let the president task Gantz with forming the government. Let him sweat it out. Nothing will come of it. We’ll be one bloc, he can’t do anything.”
Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich asked Netanyahu: “Let’s assume that tomorrow Gantz establishes a government and tells you he’s open to a rotation [among the premiers], but on condition that you [Likud] come alone. What will you tell him?”
Netanyahu responded: “I’ll tell him we are a bloc.”
Later Wednesday, Netanyahu convened members of his party in Jerusalem, where he told them about the aforementioned meeting with party heads and that Tourism Minister Yariv Levin would lead the expanded right-wing bloc’s negotiation team.
“Now that we’ve established the bloc of right-wing parties, there are only two options: either a government with me as prime minister, or a dangerous government that leans on the Arab parties,” said Netanyahu.
Meanwhile, Likud officials on Wednesday reiterated that Netanyahu was and will remain the only candidate the party will support for prime minister.
“An attempt is being made to portray Blue and White as striving toward a unity government, with us doing the reverse. The reality is precisely the opposite,” said Levin. “They are trying to say they want unity, but ‘we reject the head of your party.’ There’s never been such a thing in history.”
Levin added: “Beyond the fact that the [election] result is what it is, and it’s clear that Netanyahu is our candidate for prime minister, we are not the Labor Party. Their jubilation over passing the electoral threshold is because they didn’t come together as respective parties after the election like we did, rather started right off the bat to dismantle the party from the inside.”
Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis said at the meeting that “totalitarian parties are boycotting the prime minister; this is the greatest form of cynicism in Israeli politics.”
Likud MK David Bitan said, “Our candidate for the premiership is Netanyahu, we won’t replace him. We won’t do so because another party has vetoed him. We’ve never done so and we won’t do it now. I would advise Blue and White to climb off its high horse.”