Israel Election Results: Tensions Rise in anti-Netanyahu Bloc as Leaders Discuss Path to Government

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv, last March.
Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv, last March.Credit: Moti Milrod
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Yesh Atid party chief Yair Lapid held talks with Defense Minister and Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz on Sunday, after ending another meeting with United Arab List head Mansour Abbas, who has been propelled to the center of Israeli politics as an unlikely kingmaker.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud emerged as the largest party with all the votes counted in Israel's unprecedented fourth election in two years, it still lacks an immediate majority to form a coalition. The anti-Netanyahu bloc, which Yesh Atid is a part of, is now trying to secure the majority needed to form a coalition. 

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A laconic joint statement released after the meeting said the two discussed ways to form a new government and replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, adding that they were expected to resume talks in the coming days.

However, even after his meeting with Lapid, Gantz has still not said whether he intends to recommend him as prime minister. This, as well as the personal animosity between the two, allows Gantz to maneuver in the coming days between recommending the Yesh Atid leader or either Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett or former Netanyahu ally, Gideon Sa'ar, provided the latter two agree on a joint axis within the anti-Netanyahu bloc.

Meanwhile, Naftali Bennett's right-wing Yamina still strives to form a coalition with Sa’ar's New Hope and the rest of the so-called Zionist parties. The two party leaders also released a shared statement on Sunday saying they spoke and coordinated their positions on Sunday evening ahead of the future talks with other party leaders.

Lapid's meetings with Mansour Abbas and Ayman Odeh, of the United Arab List and Joint List respectively, signaling his intention to form a coalition with them, have been met with harsh criticism from Yamina officials. In addition, the fact that Lapid held these talks during the holiday, which both Bennett and Sa’ar observe, did little to improve the Lapid-Yamina relationship.

While some Yamina officials have emphasized that "we are a right-wing party, we won't join a left-wing government," others within Yamina have not rejected the option of enjoying Mansour Abbas' support. "If Netanyahu can lean on their support, there's no reason we can't either," they said.

Following Lapid's meeting with Abbas, a statement was released by the United Arab List saying the two party leaders 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.