Yamina head Naftali Bennett and Hew Hope chair Gideon Saar met on Wednesday to finalize a list of demands for forming a unity government with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.
The talks come off the heels of a spat between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue & White chief Benny Gantz over the appointment of a permanent justice minister which seemed to have dealt a severe blow to the former's hopes of forming a viable coalition government. Israel's longest-serving premier has just five days left to muster up the support of at least 61 lawmakers in the 120-seat Knesset. If he fails to do so, he will have to return the mandate to form a government to parliament, after which the president could impose the task on a different candidate.
New Hope MK Ze'ev Elkin, along with advisors from both parties, also took part in the deliberations which lasted from early morning into the late evening hours and mainly focused on whether both right-wing lawmakers could join forces with the left-leaning elements of the anti-Netanyahu bloc — Labor and Meretz.
Saar and Bennett also discussed the possibility of reaching some sort of an understanding with other potential partners in order to leave an opening for the ultra-Orthodox parties — United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and Shas — which are closely aligned with the Likud leader.
Bennett is reportedly pushing to dismantle the Netanyahu bloc to make sure that the Haredi factions won't undermine the prospective government in parliamentary votes if they end up going into the opposition.
To this end, Bennett and Saar were carefully considering the assignment of senior ministerial portfolios as to not anger the ultra-Orthodox public. Several Yamina and New Hope lawmakers had concerns that their ally — Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, a firebrand detractor of the ultra-Orthodox leadership — would take measures to strip budgets off the Haredi public and hamper any prospect of gaining Shas and UTJ's support for their government down the road.
Bennett also demanded to uphold the status quo as it pertains to state-religion affairs, especially regarding wedge issues such as drafting yeshiva students to the military.
Both lawmakers also discussed merging their parties into a single 13-seat bloc, ensuring both lists pass the electoral threshold in case Israel ends up going to its fifth election since April 2019. Such a merger would also serve to bolster Bennett's legitimacy as a possible candidate for the premiership.
Before meeting with Saar, Bennett on Wednesday met with Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas for the first time since the March 23 election. Both lawmakers issued a joint statement, saying that "the talks went well as the two discussed both parties' positions in light of the current political situation."
The anti-Netanyahu bloc said on Monday that government talks were speeding ahead, with Bennett and Lapid willing to iron out a government outline as soon as possible in order to present it to President Reuven Rivlin once Netanyahu's mandate expires next Tuesday.