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Netanyahu (L) with then-defense minister Naftali Bennett in 2019. Photo: Atef SafadiI/POOL/AFP via Getty

With 21 days left to form a government, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting to convince Naftali Bennett that he should stand behind him rather than trying to take his place.

Why it matters: Bennett's right-wing Yamina party won just seven seats in the March 23 elections, but an unprecedented set of political circumstances has created an opening for the former defense minister and tech entrepreneur to replace Netanyahu with the support of the center-left.

Driving the news: Netanyahu and Bennett have met four times in the last two weeks, including once at the prime minister’s official residence. Bennett had never previously set foot in the residence due to the fierce opposition of Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister's wife.

  • Netanyahu has lobbied Bennett to recommit to the right-wing bloc and refuse to ally with the center-left, Bennett's aides say.
  • Netanyahu offered something Bennett has always wanted: an opportunity to join forces with Likud and gain slots on the party's electoral list and government positions for his supporters. Bennett had previously been shunned by Netanyahu's party.

The state of play: Bennett has told Netanyahu he's ready to join a right-wing government, but that no such potential government exists.

  • The radical right-wing Religious Zionism party has ruled out joining a coalition supported by the Ra'am Islamist party. Both would be required to reach a majority.

What they're saying: “Right now, Netanyahu doesn’t have a government and everything seems stuck. But Netanyahu will put huge pressure on the Religious Zionism to soften their position. If he succeeds, we will join his government," a Bennett aide told me.

The other side: Netanyahu’s aides think Bennett is playing for time in an attempt to run out the clock until Netanyahu has to return the mandate to the president.

  • Then, Bennett will be able to say he tried his best to align with Netanyahu, but he'll instead form a government with the center-left to prevent a fifth election.

Go deeper

Biden: There won't be "American forces moving into Ukraine"

President Joe Biden told reporters Tuesday that he does not foresee U.S. troops moving into Ukraine.

Why it matters: Biden's comments come as tensions between Russia and Ukraine persist, and a Russian invasion of Ukraine appears increasingly likely.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments — Fauci: "Confident" Omicron cases will peak in February.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Biden admin withdraws temporary vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers — New York Supreme Court strikes down Gov. Hochul's mask mandate for public areas — Sarah Palin tests positive, delaying defamation trial — Virginia school boards sue Gov. Youngkin for lifting mask mandate.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker

The Robinhood M&A rumor mill churns

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Robinhood's valuation is now just over $11 billion, a fraction of where it traded in August and below that of its last private round of funding. Cue the M&A mongers.

Why it matters: It's not just Robinhood—falling values of growth-oriented tech stocks have raised speculation that formerly high-flying fintechs could be snapped up by more well-capitalized buyers.