Netanyahu Lays Ground for Elections, Sources Say '98%' There

As tensions with Lapid reach boiling point, sources say early election is closer than ever.

Jonathan Lis
Yossi Verter
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The Good Old Days: Lapid and Netanyahu during the previous government.
The Good Old Days: Lapid and Netanyahu during the previous government.Credit: Emil Salman
Jonathan Lis
Yossi Verter

The tension between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid intensified over the weekend, with both viciously attacking the other. Sources close to Netanyahu said last night that the rift could still be healed, but that “we’re 98 percent into an election.” According to the sources, even though the vote on the Jewish nation-state bill has been postponed again, one should assume that an early election is closer than ever.

Netanyahu is expected to decide, apparently within the next two days, if the coalition will fall apart, and call for a new election in the near future. The prime minister is waiting for the decisions of the three ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset, who were asked to support his candidacy, or at least agree to refrain from joining a coalition without him, after the election. As of this point, Netanyahu has not been able to enlist the support of these parties.

Shas leader MK Aryeh Deri told Netanyahu that he will not make early declarations in favor of Netanyahu’s candidacy for another term. In an interview with Channel 2, Deri said that he agreed to not participate in efforts to oust Netanyahu if the prime minister were to call for an early election in the near future. “I told Netanyahu that we’d promise not to support bringing down this government, that we’d be loyal until the election, but I’m not ready to talk about what would happen after the election,” Deri said.

Netanyahu told his associates, during a private discussion before he heard about Lapid’s remarks at a “Shabbat Culture” event in Tel Aviv that he does not intend to push for an election over the nation-state law that has caused controversy and criticism, and that he is ready to make compromises on the issue. “What we can’t agree to is a lack of governance,” said Netanyahu, adding, “we cannot continue like this. And if over the next few days it turns out that we can’t reach an agreement with the Yesh Atid faction on the rules of the game, I’ll be forced to call for an early election.”

Lapid had launched a blistering attack on Netanyahu, saying, “Everything is stuck and the prime minister just stands on the side ... Housing is stuck, the budget is stuck and our international relations are deteriorating.

“Instead of passing the budget and dealing with all the problems, they’re dealing with petty politics,” the finance minister continued. “Israel doesn’t need elections; it needs us to pass a social budget, to deal with housing, to deal with the cost of living, to work for the citizens.”

During talks led by Netanyahu, the prime minister attacked Lapid directly and said that he is “abusing the nation’s citizens” by refusing to discuss the budget, including the defense budget, due to his insistence on passing a zero VAT tax for purchasers of new apartments.

“I’m against that law,” the prime minister told his associates. “It will not have a good effect on apartment prices in Israel. It will lead to billions in waste, and if it benefits anyone, it will only be those contractors close to Lapid’s advisors.”

Netanyahu also said that since Lapid joined the government, he has said “all kinds of strange things about new politics,” but Lapid is conducting “the oldest politics there are, politics meant to overthrow the prime minister, and efforts to get the ultra-Orthodox parties to bring down the government. Lapid’s politics do not serve the citizens of this country, rather his own narrow interests, and therefore I cannot agree.

“I will not allow Lapid to continue abusing the citizens of this country,” Netanyahu said. “They deserve a functioning government. I will not allow Lapid to paralyze the government.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu is offering a compromise on the Jewish nation-state bill that would ease the tension within the coalition, should he choose not to hold an election. Netanyahu is expected to disseminate a memorandum about the new draft today. The prime minister’s new wording will be sent to the various government ministries, so that it could be discussed in the Knesset or within the Ministerial Committee for Legislation next Sunday.

According to estimations, Netanyahu is expected to postpone the vote on the laws being pushed by Zeev Elkin, Ayelet Shaked and Yariv Levin scheduled for Wednesday. Coalition officials estimate that Netanyahu could do away with those laws completely within the framework of a coalition compromise that would allow for a vote to be held on his law. Netanyahu has stated in closed talks that he would not allow the coalition to fall apart over the nation-state law.