Does Yesh Atid Have a Part to Play in the Coalition Musical Chairs?

Lapid described this week's political shenanigans as 'an embarrassment,' but there are those in Likud who believe he could be the next to join the government and even become foreign minister.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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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
Jonathan Lis

The current talking point on the county's political agenda is the possible entry of Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party into the coalition, following the agreement-in-principle of Yisrael Beiteinu to join the government.

Likud sources believe that it will be possible to tempt Lapid into the coalition on the basis of the understandings reached with Zionist Union's Isaac Herzog in recent weeks. Herzog was subsequently spurned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in favor of Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu.

On his return from a visit to the United States on Friday, Lapid criticized all the participants in the recent political developments, calling them "an embarrassing spectacle."

The chances of luring Lapid into the government are "slim," one Likud minister said, "but not impossible – as we saw over the last few days."

Netanyahu has told his ministers that he is interested in appointing a moderate foreign minister who will be liked by the international community and will be able to reform Israel's image in the world.

He is looking for a widely-accepted personality, he said, who will assist him in dealing with a potential clash with U.S. President Barack Obama in the period between the presidential elections in the United States in November and the swearing in of the new president in January.

At this stage, though, he might prefer look for a candidate who will help him explain his appointment of the radical Avigdor Lieberman to the post of defense minister.

Lapid, on the other hand, has spent his time in opposition attempting to dissipate the enmity of the Haredi street and establishing Yesh Atid as a center-right party. Its participation in a coalition which already includes United Torah Judaism and Shas could enable him to find a common language with parties that he may want to join a coalition under his leadership in the future.

Additionally, the fact that Netanyahu has bought himself time until the next elections may persuade Lapid to prefer a significant portfolio – at least for a period – over prolonged inaction on the opposition benches.

Netanyahu clarified on Friday that the cabinet posts he promised Herzog remain open, pending the possible return of Zionist Union to negotiations – despite the agreement with Lieberman that is currently being finalized.

"I am leaving the door open for their participation, which will only do good for Israel," he said on Friday. "We have diplomatic opportunities, particularly as regards developments in the region, in which I personally am continually engaged. For that reason, I made a major effort to bring in Zionist Union."

Likud sources believe that Herzog will not make another initiative to bring his party into the coalition during the current Knesset. But the draft agreement that Netanyahu reached with Herzog could find favor in the eyes of Yesh Atid members – primarily the foreign, economy, agriculture, environment and Negev and Galilee portfolios.

There is also the prospect of a new diplomatic initiative, as well as the holding of a regional summit and a variety of socio-economic initiatives that could tickle Lapid's fancy.

"Lapid is facing a problem," a Likud source said. "Ya'alon could replace him as the most popular candidate to replace Netanyahu among center-right voters. Lieberman's entry into the coalition will increase its lifespan and leave Lapid stewing in opposition for the next three years.

"He will have to reinvent himself to remain relevant until 2019. He very much wanted to be foreign minister and in fact travels the world like a shadow foreign minister. From his perspective, being part of the government during a significant diplomatic initiative and then splitting from it before the next elections could strengthen his candidacy."

However, the ultra-Orthodox parties could sabotage such a move. "He's a red cape to them," a Likud minister said. "Netanyahu has promised not to weaken the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition negotiations and the impression is that Lieberman dropped all his demands regarding religious issues. Lapid can't allow himself to do the same. The chances that UTJ will allow him to sit in the government are virtually nil."

Lapid himself described this week's political events as "a firesale of Israel's values Israeli politics are bankrupt."

"We are the only ones who said we wouldn't enter the government and we meant it," Yesh Atid said in a statement. "Yesh Atid is not a partner to this government. It is an alternative."

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