Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said on Sunday he expects to be tasked with forming a government should Benjamin Netanyahu fail to do so before his early May deadline, adding he would lead a unity government with parties from both the Israeli left-wing and right-wing.
Lapid, who vowed to replace Netanyahu in the March 23 election but has so far kept his intentions relatively quiet, told a press briefing he had secured 45 lawmakers who would endorse him in a potential second round of consultations with President Reuven Rivlin after Netanyahu’s mandate to form a coalition expires.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still has two weeks left to try and form a coalition before May 4, although he may be granted a two-week extension by the president once that time has elapsed.
“We have 45 recommendations,” Lapid said. “I would be very surprised if the president doesn’t task me with forming the next government.” Apart from his Yesh Atid party, with 17 out of 120 Knesset seats, Lapid backed by Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan, Labor, Yisrael Beiteinu and Meretz.
His potential “unity” government, according to Lapid, would be founded on the leading principle of cooperation and “three right-wing parties, two center parties and two left-wing parties,” which would mean getting Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party and Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope to join a Lapid-led coalition, on top of the parties that had already recommended him for prime minister.
Lapid said he wouldn’t “rule out anyone apart from the Kahanists as future partners,” arguing “We don’t want people who openly back… dark and racist theories in the Israeli government.”
Lapid shied away from stating clearly whether ultra-Orthodox or Arab-majority parties could be part of his potential coalition, but vowed to take care of all groups “even if they’re not in government.”
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It seems that Lapid is trying to signal President Rivlin of his intentions. The president has said in the past that if Netanyahu fails to form a coalition, he would prefer to find an alternative candidate rather than returning the mandate to the Knesset.
In such a situation any Knesset member who has at least 61 backers would be tasked with forming a coalition. As Yamina's Naftali Bennett and the Joint List have not decided which of the candidates to back, Lapid is still short of the 61 backers needed for a coalition.
Earlier on Sunday, leader of the far-right Religious Zionism party, Bezalel Smotrich, said he prefers a coalition government that includes both Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid rather than a right-wing government that is reliant on the support of the United Arab List.
On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Gideon Sa'ar, who broke away from Likud ahead of the March election, to return to the party, assuring him he would be welcome with open arms.
"Likud is your home, you've grown here and you'll be welcome here with open arms. This isn’t the time to form a left-wing government," Netanyahu said, urging Sa'ar to join forces and "form a stable right-wing coalition to guarantee our future in our country."
In the absence of defectors from the anti-Netanyahu camp, the prime minister is expected to turn up the pressure on Smotrich to join a coalition that is supported by the United Arab List.