Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold a second meeting Thursday with Yair Lapid, seeking common ground to bring Lapid’s Yesh Atid party into the coalition.
Netanyahu held long, informal coalition talks with Lapid on January 24, just two days after the election — his first meeting with a potential coalition party leader — in what the Prime Minister’s Office said was “a very good atmosphere.”
Since then, however, Lapid, whose party won 19 seats in the elections, told a TV interviewer that he expected to win the prime ministership in the next elections, and was reported to have said he might go into opposition this time and emerge in 18 months to unseat Netanyahu.
Those comments brought a bitter response on Wednesday from Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu No.2, Avigdor Liberman, who said Lapid was obsessed “with being prime minister” before he had even started work as a politician. But Netanyahu was publicly unfazed, shaking hands warmly with Lapid at Tuesday’s Knesset swearing-in ceremony.
Likud sources said Wednesday that Netanyahu, especially having been rebuffed on Wednesday by Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich, strongly wants Lapid in his government, and will remind him that energizing Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and legislating for ultra-Orthodox military service — key Lapid demands — will not be possible without a strong centrist element in the coalition.
Channel 10 TV news reported on Wednesday night that Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party is ready in principle to join the government, with Livni to gain some responsibility for Israeli-Palestinian contacts. There was no immediate confirmation of the report.
The peace process will also apparently figure prominently in President Barack Obama’s imminent visit.
Trying to pressure Lapid and Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party, Likud sources were quoted by Channel 10 as saying Wednesday night that Netanyahu might try to build a coalition without either of them, heavily dependent on the ultra-Orthodox parties, but that scenario seems arithmetically hard to envision given Yachimovich’s determination to stay in the opposition.
Lapid and Bennett have both been castigated by the Shas ultra-Orthodox party in recent days for pushing hard to draft the ultra-Orthodox. Shas’s “Yom LeYom” newspaper released text of a Thursday editorial which says “there is something Reform-ish, something gentile” about Bennett’s Jewish Home party and that it is not, in fact, “part of the Jewish home.”
Lapid on Wednesday released a statement saying he saw Torah study as “part of the existential fabric of Israel” and praised those who devoted themselves to it full time. But that was no excuse for not teaching English and mathematics to young children in the ultra-Orthodox community, he wrote, or “for 18-year-olds not serving their country, or for 28-year-olds not entering the workforce.”