Lapid and Bennett Meet for Coalition Talks After 'Progress' in Negotiations With Sa'ar

Talks between anti-Netanyahu leaders were halted during the latest round of Gaza fighting. Lapid has a week to go before his deadline expires

Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov
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Naftali Bennett at the Knesset, on Monday.
Naftali Bennett at the Knesset, on Monday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett met on Thursday with Yair Lapid, a week before his deadline to form a government expires.

This was their first meeting since the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas began earlier this month, during which Bennett said an anti-Netanyahu coalition was off the table.

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Both Bennett’s Yamina and Lapid’s Yesh Atid refused to comment publicly on the talks, as both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the bloc of parties opposing him attempt to convince Yamina to join their potential coalition.

Earlier on Thursday, New Hope chairman Gideon Sa'ar also renewed coalition talks with Yair Lapid, who is working to form a government before his mandate expires on June 2.

Both parties' negotiating teams met on Thursday for the first time since talks between Yesh Atid and New Hope were halted amid the Gaza fighting.

New Hope chairman Gideon Sa'ar. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

In a joint statement, they said there was "progress" and some agreements were reached. The two teams said they will continue talks in the coming days "in order to form a government."

Yesh Atid say that they have tried to set up a meeting earlier this week, but their efforts were rejected by Sa'ar's party. On Monday, Sa'ar ruled out joining a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Wednesday, Lapid announced that he has reached an agreement between his party and Meretz, as he continues his efforts to form a government one week before his mandate expires.

Later on Wednesday, Yesh Atid negotiators met with Labor Party representatives and agreement between the parties is set to be signed on Thursday. Meanwhile, the Yesh Atid team is also negotiating with Defense Minister Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan.

The Yesh Atid-Meretz agreement comes a day after Lapid reached a coalition deal with Yisrael Beiteinu, as he continues his efforts to form a coalition by the week’s end with all the parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc.

Bennett told his party Wednesday evening that he had threatened to suspend talks with Netanyahu's Likud if its supporters continue to attack him.

At a meeting with his party’s Knesset faction, Bennett sharply criticized Netanyahu. Referring to the prime minister’s residence, Bennett said, “I am not holding negotiations in the face of terror – the pressure is deliberate terror coming from Beit Balfour.”

The pro-Netanyahu bloc had decided to renew pressure on Bennett and his No. 2, Ayelet Shaked, out of concern that Yamina may revive talks with Yesh Atid to form a government.

Bennett’s remarks came amid growing fears about protests being organized outside the homes of Yamina Knesset members. 

On Wednesday, Bezalel Smotrich, the chairman of the far-right Religious Zionism party, attacked Bennett and Shaked, saying that they “had taken left right-wing voters off guard by creating the impression that a change government was no longer an option. But in practice, they continued to work quietly, under fire, is form a left-wing government with the supporters of Arab terror.”

The pressure on Yamina leaders was turned up after Bennett in a Facebook posting at the start of the week didn’t categorically deny that a change government was off the table. In the midst of recent hostilities with Gaza, Bennett had broken off talks with Lapid, although he refrained from saying this publicly and made known his decision in what was reported as “closed discussions.”

Shaked also failed in remarks she made on Wednesday to say a change government was off the table.

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