Israel Coalition Talks: Islamist Party Freezes Negotiations in Wake of Jerusalem, Gaza Flare-up

Yair Lapid says that not all potential coalition partners will get what they want, but argues everyone understands Israel 'needs to change direction'

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United Arab List leader Mansour Abbas at the Knesset two weeks ago.
United Arab List leader Mansour Abbas at the Knesset two weeks ago.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The United Arab List party froze coalition talks on Monday in the wake of escalations in Jerusalem and the south, according to sources involved in the talks.

Earlier in the day, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said that the remaining issues that need to be settled before forming a new government are not large.

“Within days, we can swear in a new, functioning government based on broad agreements and the common good,” Lapid said “Forming a government is never an easy task. Not everyone will get what they want. But there’s an understanding that everyone is a partner in it. We all understand that the country needs a change of direction.”

Lapid was supposed to meet on Monday with Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett and United Arab List leader Mansour Abbas, but the latter suspended coalition negotiations and put off the meeting due to the security situation. The meeting had been aimed at reaching final understandings ahead of the possible signing of a coalition agreement.

A source involved in the talks said the UAL had requested the delay to examine a new proposal in which its members would be named deputy ministers in the prospective government. The party had earlier rejected getting full ministerial portfolios, but is exploring the model that has been used by the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party over the years.

Meanwhile, the division of portfolios is becoming clearer. As things look now, Labor leader Meirav Michaeli is expected to get the Transportation Ministry and Omer Bar-Lev will get Public Security. That decision indicates that Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked, who has demanded the Justice Ministry and considered the Public Security Ministry, in the end will get the Interior Ministry.

Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz is expected to get the Health Ministry and Tamar Zandberg Environmental Protection. If the party doesn’t get an additional portfolio, lawmaker Esawi Freige will be named chairman of the Central Elections Committee.

A source involved in the negotiations asserted that Meretz had expressed an interest in chairing the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, among other reasons in order to help Horowitz succeed at his job as health minister. But coalition negotiators are weighing giving the committee chairmanship to UAL, which last week demanded to head another major Knesset committee, in addition to the Committee on Arab Public Affairs, which is being formed for Abbas.

Lapid attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying, “There’s no line that he won’t cross in order to divide Israeli society and drag us into a fifth election. But it’s backfired on him. Instead of weakening us, it has served as a reminder of why a unity government is so critical.”

Lapid told his partners they must avoid fighting over ministerial portfolios. “Anyone who prevents the formation of a government by insisting on another ministry will not be forgiven by the citizens of Israel,” he warned.

Labor leader Merav Michaeli told a meeting of her faction that the party was committed to a government and said that it could be formed today.

“The Labor Party will do nothing to frustrate the formation of a new government. It will do what must be done while never forgetting it has seven [Knesset] seats and that we are obligated to represent those seats. Therefore, during the negotiations, not only did we do nothing to undermine those efforts, but we made concessions that no other party or leader would make. From our perspective, we’re ready to wind everything up today.”

Bennett and Abbas held a meeting Sunday night that was considered to be crucial for the bloc of change. UAL’s support will enable a government to be formed even if Yamina lawmaker Amichai Chikli keeps his promise to oppose it.

As of now, however, the predominantly Arab Joint List doesn’t intend to support the new government, both because Bennett is expected to be prime minister and because he doesn’t want to rely on the Joint List’s backing.

Yamina leaders believe they will be able to prevent any further defections and that the party’s other lawmakers will support the formation of the unity government. But if additional lawmakers eventually decide to oppose the government, the bloc is exploring the possibility of the Joint List splitting its vote, thereby giving it the Knesset majority it needs.

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