Lapid Makes Progress in Forming Government, Says Lieberman Would Get Treasury

With eight days left to form a cabinet, centrist Yair Lapid is trying to form a government with all parties that oppose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyanu, though his chances are still considered low

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Yair Lapid, left, in the Knesset on Monday.
Yair Lapid, left, in the Knesset on Monday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Yisrael Beiteinu and Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party said Tuesday they had agreed on a coalition deal that would help form a new government and replace Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister after 12 straight years at the helm.

Under the agreement, members of Avigdor Lieberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu would be finance minister and head the Knesset Finance Committee. The party would also receive two other portfolios, including the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry.

In separate talks between Lapid and Naftali Bennett, the leader of the right-wing Yamina party, Bennett demanded the Finance Committee and did not agree that Lieberman's party would receive both that panel and the Finance Ministry. The Negev and Galilee Development Ministry was originally intended for Yamina's Ayelet Shaked, who was set to receive an expanded Interior Ministry portfolio including the Negev and Galilee ministry.

Lapid and Lieberman also agreed that the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on matters such as kashrut certification would end, and municipal rabbis would be permitted to conduct conversions. There would also be a new bill on drafting young ultra-Orthodox men into the army.

Lapid has been striving to reach agreements with other parties that seek to replace Netanyahu, with eight days left until Lapid’s mandate from the president to form a coalition expires. Lapid told Yesh Atid lawmakers, however, that his chances of success were low.

Lapid hopes to sign agreements by the end of the week with the Labor Party, Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan and left-wing Meretz; only after that, a few days before Lapid's time runs out, would Bennett receive the chance to enter a government and be part of a rotation for the premiership.

Avigdor Lieberman at a Yisrael Beiteinu party meeting on Monday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Yesh Atid lawmakers believe that Gideon Sa'ar's New Hope party is likely to balk at forming a government with Lapid at this point, but Lapid's party will still try to reach an understanding with Sa’ar.

Sa’ar told party members Monday that he would not join a coalition headed by Netanyahu, a possibility he also ruled out in the run-up to the March election.

“Israel doesn't need more years of rule under Netanyahu,” Sa’ar said at a New Hope meeting. “Quite the opposite.” Sa’ar’s remarks came after reports last week that he was considering forming a power-sharing government with Netanyahu, with Religious Zionism chief Bezalel Smotrich mediating between the two.

Yesh Atid members say Bennett might be tempted to join a rotation government with Lapid because of Bennett’s faltering negotiations with Netanyahu’s Likud and the threat that the popular Shaked would leave Yamina before the next election.

Such a government would still need the support of Mansour Abbas’ United Arab List party. During the fighting with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza this month, Abbas said he would relaunch coalition talks after a cease-fire but has yet to make a clear statement on the matter.

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