Lapid Meets Bennett, Sa'ar as anti-Netanyahu Bloc Set Sights on Unity Government

As coalition efforts continue, Bennett also meets with Labor's Michaeli, Yisrael Beiteinu's Lieberman while far-right party leader Smotrich attacks Yamina as opportunistic

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Yair Lapid arrives to the president's official residence to accept the mandate to form government
Yair Lapid arrives to the president's official residence to accept the mandate to form governmentCredit: Emil Salman

Right-wing Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and centrist Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid held two meetings on Friday, in a bid to expedite talks on a unity government that could see Benjamin Netanyahu replaced as prime minister.

After Netanyahu missed his Tuesday deadline, the president tasked Lapid this week with forming a government, giving him 28 days to do so. Together with Bennett, he hopes to secure majority backing before that time elapses, but their main challenge is getting parties from across the political spectrum to agree to the same basic guidelines.

The two lawmakers also, for the first time, met together with New Hope's Gideon Sa’ar and Yisrael Beitenu's Avigdor Lieberman, and with Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz for the second time.

The duo, in negotiations on splitting the premiership between them over the next government's four-year term, also sat down with Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz. 

Bennett also met Friday with Labor Chairwoman Merav Michaeli for their first one-on-one meeting. Michaeli's associates said that "the meeting was optimistic," and that the Labor chairwoman asked "to advance various work plans." Bennett and Michaeli, however, didn't discuss ministerial appointments or the main guidelines a new coalition would have.

Responding to criticism from pro-Netanyahu lawmakers saying he was betraying the right wing by cooperating with Lapid, Bennett wrote on Facebook that he was willing to pay the political price to ensure that a government forms. "I do not know if I will succeed, but I can promise you that I will, with all my strength, try to fix things."

Religious Zionism Chairman Bezalel Smotrich attacked Bennett on Friday for meeting with Lapid, calling Yamina “a bunch of power-hungry opportunists who committed betrayal in the name of fulfilling the limitless political aspirations of one man, who repeatedly failed the public test and is imposing himself through political antics.”

Smotrich added on Facebook: “When I called our party Religious Zionism I did so precisely for this moment, so that the history books wouldn’t record that Religious Zionism was an accessory to the great betrayal by Bennett, [Ayelet] Shaked and the small, submissive gang of operatives that they surrounded themselves with.”

Bennett hit back with his own criticism. "I know where I came from and where I am going, and I am determined to exhaust this effort until its end, but it is not simple when people with whom you walked a long way, whom you raised politically, wield serious statements against you that I do not even want to repeat," he wrote on social media. "I call on my friends on the right: it's possible to disagree, but this kind of fiery discourse is exactly the reason the public is not giving us a majority, time after time."

Meanwhile, Yamina’s Matan Kahana, third on the party’s election slate, supported Bennett in a Facebook post, writing: “We wanted a right-wing government. I saw Naftali making every effort for this to happen over the past month. Regrettably, it looks like it was less urgent for this Netanyahu. We understand that what is needed now is a unity government, as broad as possible.”

Bennett also received backing from three of his Yamina colleagues on Thursday. New lawmakers Abir Kara, Idit Silman and Nir Orbach rejected the generous offers they had received in recent days from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s envoys in exchange for defecting from their party and preventing Bennett,  Lapid and their allies from forming a government. The three lawmakers, whom Likud targeted as “weak links,” stated they would support Bennett’s efforts to form a unity government. Their statements were part of a tactical move by Yamina to portray itself as united behind the decision to cooperate with Lapid. 

Yisrael Beiteinu's Lieberman stated on Facebook Friday morning that the coalition agreement would include his military draft bill without any changes, a bill allowing civil unions, ending the monopoly on certification of kosher food and establishments, promoting the study of core curricula in ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools and approving a two-year state budget.

“An Israeli unity government isn’t a compromise, but a goal,” Lapid told a press conference on Thursday, the day after being tapped by Rivlin to form the next government. “This is what Israel needs now.”

Lapid stated: “Internal strife weakens us. We are not seeking fights, we are looking to work. We all understand that this is not a government in which we will achieve all our dreams.” He added: “My future partners are different people with various opinions, but someone disagreeing with you doesn’t make them the enemy. This will be a complex government, but it will have one simple goal: to bring us out of crisis. The coronavirus crisis, the economic crisis, the political crisis.”

Netanyahu said Thursday night that a Lapid-Bennett government would be a "weak, feeble government." He called on Yamina, particularly Bennett and Shaked, to oppose a coalition including Lapid and leftist parties, and to join with him instead.    

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