A pact between Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid is causing serious consternation in Likud, and a senior source in the ruling party warns that new elections are a possibility. The improbable warning is a sign that Likud is feeling the pressure of the united front presented by Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid, each of whom is saying he will not enter the coalition without the other.
"Bennett should not pull the rope too much," the senior source told Maariv. "In the end it will snap."
"Netanyahu is ready to head for elections," the source said. "The main thing is not to surrender to the pact between Bennett and Lapid. Netanyahu is unwilling to consider the possibility of leaving the hareidi parties out of the coalition."
"Bennett and Lapid should internalize this. Netanyahu will not bring Lapid into the coalition before he closes deals with all of his natural allies," he added.
Unnamed sources in Bayit Yehudi told the newspaper that they are unfazed by the warning. "Netanyahu is threatening us with an empty pistol. If elections are held today Likud will get 12 seats, because the public will punish him for failing to establish the most natural government – with us – which is what he should have done from the outset."
Likud's warning and Bayit Yehudi's response appear to show that Bennett is successfully outmaneuvering Netanyahu in the coalition negotiations. Netanyahu was pointedly slow in inviting Bennett for coalition talks, even meeting the head of ultra-leftist opposition party Meretz before he deigned to meet the head of the religious Zionist party. Bennett has responded by applying the political equivalent of a wrestling headlock. The pact with Yesh Atid means that Netanyahu cannot bring hareidi parties into the coalition, because Yesh Atid's secularist demands concerning hareidi enlistment are unbearable to the hareidim.
Bennett has also expressed strong support for a reform in hareidi enlistment, but unlike Lapid, he is willing to negotiate the matter with the hareidi leadership.
If there is truth in the persistent reports about the bad blood between Bennett and Netanyahu – and Netanyahu's wife, Sarah – the prime minister will have to find a way of overcoming those emotions, if he is to forge the government of his liking.
Yesh Atid's views on security and diplomacy are unclear. While Lapid has voiced centrist views, leading members of his list, like MKs Ofer Shelach and Yael German, are considered ultra-leftist. In addition, Lapid said after the election that he may try to oust Netanyahu from his position of leadership in 18 months' time. These factors make him an unnatural, unstable and politically dangerous ally for Netanyahu – much more so than Bennett, who has always voiced support for Netanyahu as prime minister.