With the ink still drying on Benjamin Netanyahu first coalition partnership, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid on Thursday evening signaled that the prime minister still had a ways to go before he could mint a new government.
“The coalition talks are loud and full of spin, but they won’t make us forget why we’re here and what we can’t compromise on,” Lapid wrote on his Facebook page, reiterating that his party was guided by principles on which he wouldn’t compromise — even if it meant a stint in the opposition.
“We have patience, because we know you chose us for a reason,” he wrote.
A Knesset Channel poll published Thursday found that if Netanyahu ultimately fails to assemble a coalition, and new elections are subsequently called, Yesh Atid would win a staggering 30 seats, overtaking Netanyahu’s freefalling Likud-Beytenu as the Knesset’s largest faction.
The TV-anchor-cum-political-superstar’s assertion that he was prepared to join the opposition is noteworthy in that such a scenario remains highly unlikely unless the rightwing Jewish Home party and its leader, Naftali Bennett, cave in to pressure from Netanyahu and dissolve their partnership with Yesh Atid on a number of key policy points. Chief among those is the question of a compulsory draft for the ultra-Orthodox, an issue which until this election season was never of much import to the Jewish Home and its progenitor, the National Religious Party.
Bennett, for his part, on Thursday added a new clause to his list of demands — that Netanyahu rescind his decision to grant Tzipi Livni of Hatnua, with whom he signed a coalition deal on Tuesday, a major say on all matters relating to the peace process.
A day earlier, Bennett attacked Livni’s past role in negotiations with the Palestinians, including her purported willingness to divide Jerusalem and hand the West Bank city of Ariel to the Palestinians. (Livni denies both assertions.)
Jewish Home and Likud-Beytenu are set to hold another round of meetings on Friday, and according to Yedioth Ahronoth, Netanyahu has instructed his negotiators to “do whatever it takes” to pry Bennett away from Lapid.
According to sources close to the negotiations cited by Channel 10 Thursday, talks with Bennett and Lapid have been stalled because the two wish to serve, respectively, as finance minister and foreign minister — two of the most senior cabinet positions alongside the defense ministership.
But Lapid appeared to dispel that notion in his Facebook post. “This isn’t about [cabinet] portfolios, it isn’t about jobs, it isn’t about who enters [the government] first and who hurts whom,” he asserted.
In a move that has the potential to make things even harder for Netanyahu and his team, Lapid and Bennett met Thursday with Shaul Mofaz, whose two-seat Kadima party was recently rumored to be on the verge of joining the coalition. In mid-2012, Mofaz, then with 28 Knesset seats to his name, walked out of a short-lived coalition with Likud over the same issue that’s thus far been holding back Lapid and Bennett — the Haredi draft.