MK Moshe Gafni (l.) and MK Bezalel Smotrich (r.)
MK Moshe Gafni (l.) and MK Bezalel Smotrich (r.) Hezki Baruch

In the aftermath of the disappointment at the failure of the right-wing bloc to assemble a coalition following the recent elections, and the decision of President Reuven Rivlin to hand the mandate to MK Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has invited the heads of the right-wing parties to his office on Thursday.

That is to say, Netanyahu has invited the heads of the UTJ party, MKs Moshe Gafni and Yaakov Litzman, Shas head Aryeh Deri, and Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich, but has omitted Naftali Bennett, head of the Yamina party. The leaders are expected to meet at one p.m.

Behadrey Haredim reports that on Wednesday, when all the party heads were asked by President Rivlin to nominate a candidate for the task of forming a government, the Likud party attempted to persuade all the heads of the parties in the right-wing bloc – again, with the exception of Naftali Bennett – to issue a joint letter recommending that the President pass the mandate directly to the Knesset as a whole, rather than nominating a single candidate. However, the party leaders declined to sign such a joint letter.

Ultimately, Rivlin decided to hand the mandate to Lapid, assessing that he had the best chance of assembling a coalition, even though he had the recommendations of only 56 MKs, five short of the 61 needed for a majority. Lapid now has 28 days to succeed in his task.

Thursday’s meeting will be the first time the heads of the right-wing parties have convened all together with Netanyahu since the elections. According to sources, the Prime Minister is expected to request that the party heads refrain from negotiating with any members of the so-called “bloc for change” – those parties dedicated to replacing Netanyahu as premier – including Yamina party head, Naftali Bennett.

Back in March, Bennett promised that he would never join MK Yair Lapid in a government headed by his Yesh Atid party, “even in a rotation.” However, just days later, media reports revealed that Yesh Atid had “acquiesced to Yamina’s demand” that in a rotation deal, Bennett would serve first as Prime Minister, followed by Yair Lapid, even though Bennett only has seven MKs to Yesh Atid’s 18.