Centrist leader Yair Lapid on Thursday called on potential coalition partners to put their political disagreements aside and join a unity government that would be "honest and functioning."
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"An Israeli unity government isn't a compromise, but a goal," Lapid told a press conference. "This is what Israel needs now."
Lapid, Yesh Atid party leader who was tapped on Wednesday by President Reuven Rivlin to form a government after Netanyahu’s 28-day mandate expired, counts on the backing of parties across the political spectrum who want to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu replaced after 12 consecutive years in power.
Lapid admitted his potential coalition partners "all have different opinions," but said "they want to forge cooperation in a way we haven't seen in years."
His remarks come shortly after the leaders of ultra-Orthodox parties said they would stand by Netanyahu in opposing efforts to form an alternative coalition, imploring right-wing Yamina leader Naftali Bennett – who is in talks with Lapid – to "get it together" and join forces with them.
Shas Chairman Arye Dery told a press briefing his party was “very concerned” by the prospect of a center-left government, which he argued could put “Israel’s Jewish character” at risk.
Together with United Torah Judaism’s Moshe Gafni, they warned Y Bennett against joining an “anti-religious” coalition.
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Netanyahu, who missed his Tuesday deadline to form a government, said earlier on Thursday, “I’m not going anywhere.” He told a Likud faction meeting “I’m staying right here, to fight with you until we win,” adding Israel wasn’t headed for a fifth back-to-back election cycle, because “no one wants” it at this point.
The prime minister doubled down on his accusation that Bennett “prevented the formation of a right-wing government” by refusing to join a Netanyahu-led coalition – which, even with Yamina’s seven seats, would be shy of a Knesset majority.
Lapid secured the backing of 56 out of 120 lawmakers in consultations with Rivlin, but he still has no clear path to a majority coalition. He has 28 days to present a government, and if he fails, the Knesset would have 21 days to elect another candidate.
Netanyahu and his Likud party have been trying to pressure Yamina lawmakers to defect and back a Netanyahu-led coalition, an effort so far met with near complete rejection by most Yamina members, apart from one who said he would refuse joining a coalition with left-wing parties.