After the failed meeting Monday between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Israeli politicians are now ramping up the rhetoric and preparing for new elections.
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At the meeting, Lapid rejected the conditions set by Netanyahu for keeping the present government in power, which included supporting the so-called Jewish nation-state bill, and freezing the zero VAT plan involving provision of inexpensive, new apartments for first-time home buyers. Lapid’s rejection of Netanyahu’s demands paves the way for Lapid and his Yesh Atid party to leave the ruling coalition – which in practice means early elections.
“Netanyahu is leading Israel into unnecessary elections. The prime minister has chosen to act irresponsibly with respect to the nation, and to put the needs of the Israeli public at the bottom of his agenda,” said a Yesh Atid statement, issued after the unsuccessful meeting. “Netanyahu prefers a deal he made with the Haredim on moving up the elections over the interests of all Israeli citizens.”
Lapid also attacked Netanyahu Tuesday, at the Energy Utility Conference in Tel Aviv.
“We had an alternative, and a good alternative," said Lapid. "Instead of wasting billions of shekels on an unnecessary election campaign, instead of paralyzing the Israeli economy, we could have passed a socially oriented budget, added billions of shekels to education, health and welfare, public security, continue with the national housing plan that increased the supply dramatically, and given young couples a discount of over 200,000 shekels on new apartments through zero VAT and the targeted price plan.
"There was an increase of billions to the Israel Defense Forces and the defense establishment in this budget,” added Lapid, who called on Netanyahu and other party leaders to leave the IDF out of politics and the election campaign.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, the head of Hatnuah, said about the possibility of going soon to the ballot box: “The elections are not over zero VAT, but about whether there will be a Zionist or extremist country here.” She noted that the elections would be between an Israeli and Zionist camp, and extreme and dangerous parties that must be prevented from taking over and destroying the country.
Speaking at a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Livni said: “This morning comes after the night in which it was decided to hold elections for what I think is a dubious reason – the zero-VAT bill.”
“Can the center camp present a realistic alternative for replacing the government in Israel? For this to happen," she continued, "we need all the forces to unite and present such an alternative – certainly, to the degree that it depends on me.”
Just minutes after the meeting between Netanyahu and Lapid ended Monday, MK Aryeh Deri, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, called on the heads of all the Knesset factions to meet immediately and to reach an agreement as soon as possible on a date for going to the polls. Shas’ decision to call for an early vote means that without both that party and Lapid's Yesh Atid, Netanyahu has no alternative for forming a coalition and the elections must indeed be moved up.
MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) said: “Everyone understands that the coming elections have no connection to the Haredim. Let Yair Lapid explain to the public what he did as finance minister and the head of a party with 19 [Knesset] seats for two years. The Haredi public is not involved in this game."
The people, added Gafni, "have already learned that and will not buy the baseless recycled claims. The man [Lapid] has failed in every thing and in every step he took and the people will have their say.”
For his part, however, coalition whip MK Ze’ev Elkin, of Likud, called on Lapid to accept Netanyahu’s demands and “not to drag Israel to elections ... There is no reason at all for Lapid’s refusal to give the IDF the minimal budget needed to function properly, as the cabinet decided, and there is no reason to insist on the zero-VAT scheme, which most experts think will only make contractors wealthier.”
Opposition head and leader of the Labor Party MK Isaac Herzog said in the wake of the failed Netanyahu-Lapid confab: “The people have no faith in this government. We must hold elections as soon as possible and replace the [government]. The Labor Party will lead the bloc that will win the elections and give hope and a new reality to the citizens of Israel.”
MK Zahava Gal-On, the chairwoman of Meretz, said Lapid and Netanyahu “failed in everything they did during this term, including the basic attempt to keep this government together. New elections is the necessary step.”
MK Amir Peretz (Hatnuah), who recently resigned as environmental protection minister, said: “The days of this government are numbered. I am happy that the government's term has ended and I hope the public understands that Netanyahu cannot continue to serve as prime minister.”
MK Danny Danon, chairman of the Likud Party Central Committee, said the political "neophyte" Lapid and his left-wing partners, who were forced upon Likud, in the coalition, have brought about an expensive and unnecessary election campaign, from which Likud will emerge victorious.
“This time, as opposed to with the present government, we will choose more appropriate partners for the government,” Danon declared.
A statement from the Likud party said: “Yair Lapid has failed miserably in managing the economy. He made a fool of himself and failed in his effort to lure the ultra-Orthodox into a revolt against the prime minister. Lapid continues to lash out, threaten to undermine the government in which he serves, and cook a political deal with [Hatnuah’s] Tzipi Livni – all out of obsolete, ugly and narrow political interests."
"Netanyahu," read the statement, "insists that the state budget be responsible, and assure security and the continued empowerment of the IDF while also dealing immediately with the prices of housing and food, as opposed to the political and irresponsible budget being advanced by Lapid. Lapid is preventing the passage of a responsible defense budget that’s needed for the IDF, he is stymieing the move of the [IDF] bases to the Negev, and is pushing the zero-VAT bill which is a total illusion and won’t reduce housing prices. Prime Minister Netanyahu is operating from an overall perspective of what’s good for the people and the state, and will not allow such reckless and irresponsible conduct in his government.”