In a public blow to coalition-building efforts in Israel, hidden-camera recordings of a potential political partner accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of being a “power-hungry dictator” have been aired on local television.
One-time Netanyahu staffer Ayelet Shaked, now a senior Knesset member from the Yamina party but who is rumored to be eyeing a return to the premier’s Likud party, also said the embattled PM was obsessed about his ongoing corruption trial.
The recordings, which were broadcast by Channel 12 on Monday, came as Netanyahu was engaged in a last-ditch attempt to entice Yamina into a right-wing coalition with a rotational power-sharing agreement – ahead of his Tuesday night deadline for government formation.
“He wants to remain in power. He has a lust for power – he and his wife. They’re like tyrants, like dictators. They’re not prepared to move aside,” said Shaked, who made the comments at a meeting on Monday with a group of rabbis, one of whom recorded her, according to the Maariv newspaper.
“The only thing he cares about now is his trial. He absolutely does not care about anything else. It’s true… all his considerations, his behavior, his comportment – all revolve around his trial,” she said, adding that Netanyahu was too “paranoid” and “scared” to ask for a pardon and plea bargain.
“It’s true that [Netanyahu] has to go. He has to go,” added Shaked, who indicated that Yamina is hoping for a power-sharing deal whereby its leader Naftali Bennett will become prime minister for one-and-a-half years followed by a two-and-half-year Netanyahu premiership.
Despite securing only seven seats in the March polls, Yamina has become a potential kingmaker. Bennett has said that he will support a Netanyahu-led, right-wing government if the PM has the votes, but will work toward a unity government with centrist and left-leaning parties without him if he does not.
In a video statement released via his Twitter account on Monday, Netanyahu said, “I told [Bennett] I am willing to accept his demand for a rotation deal in which he will serve first as prime minister for one year. Yamina party members will enter the government and Knesset with important roles.”
However, Bennett countered that he had never asked to be PM and said Netanyahu did not have the votes to form a coalition. Netanyahu responded to this by saying that other players would follow if Bennett went along – enough for a right-wing majority.
In the recording, Shaked reportedly claims that Bennett is seeking partners for a unity government in part to bring Netanyahu to the negotiating table on Yamina’s terms and stop efforts to force a fifth general election in under two years.
“[Netanyahu] understood the situation, that Bennett has an alternative government, and as a result he was prepared to offer Bennett to serve first as premier for a year-and-a-half. He would have taken us to another election,” said Shaked, who voiced concern that another round of polls could see the centre-left form a coalition with the help of Arab parties.
Netanyahu can also request a 14-day extension from President Reuven Rivlin, who reportedly favors handing the government-building mandate to other lawmakers. Conversely, Rivlin could send it to the Knesset for a three-week period, after which fifth elections have to be called should no consensus emerge on the country’s next ruler.