Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and United Arab List head Mansour Abbas, who has been propelled to the center of Israeli politics as an unlikely kingmaker, met Sunday to discuss the possibility of forming a government.
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud has emerged as the largest party with all the votes counted in Israel's unprecedented fourth election in two years, it lacks an immediate majority to form a coalition. The anti-Netanyahu bloc, of which Yesh Atid is a part of, is now trying to secure the 61 Knesset seats needed to form a governing coalition.
The meeting took place at Lapid's home in Tel Aviv, and sources said Lapid was the one who initiated the meeting. A statement released by the United Arab List said Lapid and Abbas would meet again in coming days to further discuss the formation of a new government.
According to sources involved in setting up the meeting, Lapid deemed the meeting "excellent."
"The meeting was very positive and Lapid showed understanding for the dire situation of the Arab community in all aspects of life," one source said.
The source added that the two discussed several issues, including recognizing unauthorized (Bedouin) villages in Israel's Negev, revoking the Kaminetz Law which increases sanctions for illegal construction in Arab towns, freezing of the Nation-State Law and a plan to combat violence in Arab society.
Lapid has also agreed, according to the source, that the UAL would always have the right to vote independently on matters of state and religion if they form a coalition together.
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But a UAL source was quick to pour cold water on possible agreements between Lapid and Abbas. "The fact that the meeting was positive doesn't mean we've reached understandings. It's still too soon to talk about understandings, we're not really there," he said.
Meanwhile, Joint List sources told Haaretz that Lapid had reached out twice to the Arab political alliance to seek a meeting, but the party preferred Abbas to meet Lapid first. “During the election campaign they attacked us saying we’re in Lapid’s pocket, but Abbas is the first one to meet with Lapid,” the source told Haaretz.
Lapid also met with Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz on Sunday. According to a laconic joint statement from both parties the two discussed ways to form a new government and replace Netanyahu as prime minister, adding that they were expected to resume talks in the coming days.
The United Arab List broke away from the Joint List – comprised of Hadash, Balad and Ta’al – ahead of the election due to ideological disagreements.
Two days after the March 23 vote, the Central Elections Committee released the full count of the vote, showing Yesh Atid won 17 out of 120 Knesset seats and the UAL won 4, the minimum required to enter the Knesset. Lapid, who currently heads the second biggest party in the Knesset, has already met with Labor party leader Merav Michaeli and Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman in talks to build a working majority.
The Netanyahu bloc, which includes Likud, ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, as well as the far-right Religious Zionism, has 52 seats. The anti-Netanyahu bloc, a patchwork of left, right and centrist factions, is also just shy of a majority with 57 seats.
On Wednesday, Abbas said that he has no "obligation to any bloc or any candidate," after the Islamist party surpassed the electoral threshold. Exit polls released on Tuesday initially showed that the party had failed to enter the Knesset.
In a television interview with Israeli broadcaster Kan, Abbas said his party is “not in anyone’s pocket, not on the right and not on the left.”
Also on Wednesday, a lawmaker from Netanyahu's Likud party, David Bitan said that cooperation with the United Arab List 'is not damaging.'
Bitan said that "we could get along with the United Arab List,” adding that Abbas was the election wildcard since by passing the electoral threshold "he did something that was hard to imagine would happen."
He also mentioned that the UAL's second candidate, former Mayor of Sakhnin, Mazen Ghanayem, "can serve in any position he wants in the State of Israel."
"We need to understand the alternatives – fifth elections, where we restart everything. Sometimes we need to know to compromise," Bitan added.