An official close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed back at Yair Lapid Monday, accusing the Yesh Atid leader of being "drunk with power" for his comments that he could replace Netanyahu as prime minister within 18 months. "He's convinced he is running the country. Tzipi Livni had 28 seats in the previous Knesset and never expressed herself this way. Lapid barely has 19 seats," the confidant said.
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Likud members rejected the notion that Lapid's comments are part of his negotiating strategy. "Lapid may be trying to exhaust all his options, but this doesn't seem to be the case. His statement about overturning Netanyahu is ludicrous," they said. "It seems he is committing the sin of hubris. When he wakes up, it may be too late."
As coalition talks are underway , Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Habayit Hayehudi head Naftali Bennett are working together to form a bloc that would compel ultra-Orthodox Jews to shoulder their share of the "burden," as Israelis have come to call it, potentially requiring Haredim to join the army or do national service.
The two parties' leaders are trying to form an alliance before they enter the coalition – one based on promoting legislation for equal sharing of the national service burden. Likud officials said that Lapid and Bennett were trying to create a united front to oppose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and increase their power in the coalition talks.
Sources close to the talks said that the new alliance was not apparent in the talks at Maccabiah Village Sunday. Instead, they said, it can be seen in the direct dialogue between the two party leaders. “This is definitely a tactic for the coalition talks,” a Likud official said. “It’s hard to believe that Bennett or Lapid would choose to stay in the opposition if Netanyahu offered only one of them a nice deal to join his government. Bennett and Lapid said all the time that they wanted to be in the government. There’s no reason why that should change now.”
Last week, spokespeople for Lapid and Bennett did not deny that they had met as part of their preparations for the talks with Netanyahu. Both parties issued an identical statement to reporters: “We do not comment in the media about anything to do with the coalition talks.”
The alliance between Lapid and Bennett is intended to convey a clear message to Netanyahu against the backdrop of the partnership being formed among the Haredi parties. Shas and United Torah Judaism have started working in concert to increase their strength and improve their chances of getting into the next coalition. They have also begun looking into alternatives to Lapid’s bill to try to find a compromise that will make it easier for them to join the government.
Together, both parties have 18 seats, although political officials believe that a Haredi bloc has a slim chance of imposing its will. It is believed that United Torah Judaism will have difficulty becoming part of a coalition whose theme is equal sharing of the national service burden, if such a coalition should take shape, while Shas’ chances of sitting in the next government are higher.
On the other hand, the alliance between Lapid and Bennett is a clear declaration of intent. Lapid, who would like to see Bennett in the government despite the personal conflict between Bennett and Netanyahu, is likely to force the prime minister to bring Habayit Hayehudi into the coalition. Their alliance could form a solid majority for the passing of a relatively far-reaching law regarding the draft of Haredim. The combined strength of Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi is 31 seats, identical to the combined strength of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu.