Lapid Reaches Deal With Left-wing Meretz as Coalition Talks Move Forward

The Yesh Atid-Meretz agreement includes an increase to the health budget and climate change legislation ■ Lapid is set to meet with Labor, Kahol Lavan with a week to go before his deadline expires

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Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz at the Knesset a few weeks ago.
Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz at the Knesset a few weeks ago.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid announced Wednesday 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.

According to the announcement, the parties agreed to a significant increase in the health budget, enacting legislation to combat the climate crisis, and shutting down polluting factories in the Haifa Bay.

Lapid did not specify all of the ministries that Meretz would receive, but did note that "the Regional Cooperation Ministry will be the responsibility of Meretz." While it hasn't been announced, this protfolio is expected to go to Esawi Freige.

Party leader Nitzan Horowitz is expected to be appointed as health minister in Lapid's potential government, and Tamar Zandberg would receive the environmental protection portfolio.

The 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.

Yair Lapid with Avidgor Lieberman and Merav Michaeli at the Knesset last month.Credit: Marc Israel Sellem

Later on Wednesday, Yesh Atid negotiators will meet with Labor Party representatives, and on Thursday with Kahol Lavan. No meetings have been set with the New Hope party, as sources in Yesh Atid say that its chairman, Gideon Sa’ar, is waiting to see what Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett does before meeting with Lapid.

Lapid has not signed any of the agreements with the various parties so as not to publicize them in full at this early stage. According to the law, a coalition agreement signed between two parties must be brought before the Knesset and made public. So as not to publish an agreement before a government has been formed, the negotiations teams reach “agreements on all the clauses,” but do not sign them.

According to the agreement reached with Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman will become finance minister if a government is formed, and the party will receive two more portfolios including the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry. In addition, if a coalition is formed, Yisrael Beiteinu will chair the Knesset Finance Committee and issues in their party platform will be advanced such as recognition of conversions by municipal rabbis, annulment of the chief rabbinate’s monopoly on kashrut certification and a law calling for a compulsory draft for the ultra-orthodox.

In the previous round of talks before the Gaza war, Yamina also demanded the chairmanship of the Finance Committee as well as the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry (which was to have been the second portfolio of Yamina's Ayelet Shaked). Figures in Yesh Atid said that the choice to give these ministries to Lieberman was intended as a message for Bennett.

Yesh Atid intends to continue working toward the agreements attained in the previous round of coalition talks with Labor and Kahol Lavan as well. Thus Kahol Lavan chairman and Defense Minister Benny Gantz will remain in the defense ministry, Labor chairwoman Merav Michaeli will receive the transportation portfolio and Omer Bar-Lev will become public security minister. Negotiations will continue on the distribution of the rest of the ministerial portfolios, but no significant disputes are expected. If established, this government is expected to have 25 or 26 ministers.

Lapid is also conducting talks with United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas. According to the latest assessment, if this government appears feasible, the United Arab List will support it. According to figures familiar with the negotiations, Mansour’s demands in exchange for such support do not include extreme clauses, a minister or deputy minister post (a demand that Abbas was considering), but will instead include extensive funding, committee chairmanships and an appointment as a deputy Knesset speaker.

Despite Lapid’s progress with many of the factions of the anti-Netanyahu bloc, at the moment Yesh Atid has received no sign of encouragement from Naftali Bennett. Members of the anti-Netanyahu bloc inquired Tuesday whether Bennett’s position had changed and were told that it hadn’t. According to them, the chances remain low that Bennett will join the bloc.

When Bennett took joining a government without Netanyahu off the table during the Gaza war, he made clear that his decision was made “behind closed doors.” However, since then, Bennett posted on his Facebook page that he had not backtracked, and even said that “there are a number of possibilities for establishing a government.”

Bennett’s main obstacle remains Ayelet Shaked, who is obstinate in her refusal to join a so-called “government of change.” Shaked has maintained several contacts with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior Likud members. However, the two parties have not agreed to run together should there be another election, which is a sign that keeps alive the possibility for a Bennett-Lapid government.

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