Senior Likud officials who are familiar with the coalition negotiations leveled harsh criticism on Sunday at the Habayit Hayehudi party and its chairman Naftali Bennett, accusing him of coordinating a smear campaign against Benjamin Netanyahu. Despite Bennett's conduct, they said, the prime minister still plans to include Habayit Hayehudi in the next government.
"Despite the incessant mudslinging, which continues even after the election campaign has ended, Prime Minister Netanyahu plans to form the broadest coalition possible to deal with the internal and external security challenges the State of Israel is facing," one Likud official said. "Such a broad government will include Habayit Hayehudi."
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Earlier, Netanyahu linked the coalition talks to regional threats. "There are numerous threats here, and the reality continues to develop in the east, north and south," he told a cabinet meeting.
"We must be prepared, strong and determined in the face of any threat. To this end I will strive to form the broadest and most stable government possible that will, first and foremost, be able to deal with security threats."
On Saturday a Likud official who is affiliated with the ruling party's rightist bloc said, "It would be a mistake to turn our backs on Bennett and leave him out of the government, particularly when the reason (for the rift) is the friction between him and Sara Netanyahu.
"This isn't a good enough reason to hang him out to dry," the official added, noting that the two parties share ideological similarities. "We can form a coalition with Bennett, (Yair) Lapid and the ultra-Orthodox parties."
Some members of the right-wing ruling party, however, cast doubt on Bennett's true political agenda.
"Bennett's goals extend beyond leading the religious sector into taking over the entire Right," a senior official said. "During the campaign, he gave Netanyahu a bear hug while continuing to attack him. He now wants to join the coalition not in order to take care of the Religious Zionist movement but to undercut Netanyahu from within the government."
Bennett and Netanyahu have yet to schedule a meeting between them.
Yuval Karni is a Ynet and Yedioth Ahronoth correspondent