Israel's Bennett says he would back new Netanyahu-led government

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Swearing-in ceremony, at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The leader of Israel's ultra-nationalist Yamina party said on Monday it would back a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, potentially nudging the incumbent towards being able to build a coalition after last month's inconclusive election.

Netanyahu's conservative Likud party "can count on the fingers of the Yamina faction for the formation of a right-wing government," its leader Naftali Bennett, a former Israeli defence minister, told reporters.

But even Yamina's seven seats would leave a Netanyahu-led bloc of right-wing and Jewish religious parties with only 59 of parliament's 120 seats, two short of a governing majority.

The United Arab List, which won four seats in the March 23 election, the country's fourth in two years, could emerge as a kingmaker. But it has given no public commitment to support Netanyahu, who courted the party's leader during the campaign.

A far-right party aligned with Netanyahu has said it would withhold its backing for him if he tried to enlist Arab support.

In his remarks on Monday, Bennett also appeared to leave open the option of joining an anti-Netanyahu coalition - though this too falls short of a parliamentary majority - if Israel's longest-serving leader failed to form a government.

"Whoever works to the end of forming a stable government will find that I am an energetic and a creative ally," Bennett said. "Whoever works to pave the way to a fifth election will find me and us fighting them with all of our might."

Last Tuesday, President Reuven Rivlin asked Netanyahu to form a government, giving him 28 days to do so.

If unsuccessful, Netanyahu can ask Rivlin for a two-week extension, before the president taps another candidate for the job or asks parliament to nominate one.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Gareth Jones)