As a coalition crisis over media reforms simmered, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said Sunday that he was not seeking early elections, despite his centrist opposition party’s predicted gains in the opinion polls.
“Elections are not good for the country,” said Lapid, who is seen as the only current candidate who could challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the premiership.
He spoke as ministers scrambled to resolve a spat between Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon over the new public broadcaster, which threatened to result in early elections, currently set for March 2019.
“It’s true that elections are preferable to a bad government, but mainly I don’t want elections because it attests to the government’s defective political culture,” Lapid said at a town hall meeting in the coastal city of Netanya, adding, though, that “if there are elections, we are ready.”
Yesh Atid has made steady gains in the polls over the past several months. In the most recent survey, published Friday by Channel 10, It was poised to receive 25 seats (up from its current 11), only one fewer than Likud would.
Yesh Atid party has also ruled out teaming up with the Zionist Union faction for a coalition reshuffle in lieu of early elections.
“In democracies, replacing the leadership is done only through elections,” the party said in a statement Sunday. “We won’t lend a hand to tricks and backroom deals.”
That clarification came in response to reports that Kahlon was in talks with Zionist Union about forming a new government.
Netanyahu has threatened to call early elections if his coalition refused to cancel reforms that would give state media greater editorial independence.
The long-simmering crisis escalated Saturday evening when Netanyahu backtracked on an agreement with Kahlon to set up a new public broadcasting corporation. If Kahlon refused to scrap the new broadcaster, “we’ll go to elections,” Netanyahu was reported to have told Likud ministers at his home.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin of the Likud party, considered close to Netanyahu, met late Sunday night with Shai Babad, the Finance Ministry’s director, in an attempt to defuse the coalition crisis.
No official details of their discussion were available, although there were reports that a compromise was in the offing. After the meeting both agreed that “there was a good atmosphere and a common desire to find a solution.” They also said they would continue the discussions in order to work toward a resolution.
In his address Sunday, Lapid accused the coalition of focusing on petty politics at the expense of Israel’s citizens.
“What is this? What is this meant to be? Have they lost their minds? This is not how you run a country,” he said. “The prime minister, finance minister, the senior ministers — they are all dealing with petty politics instead of what is important to citizens.”
According to Channel 2, Netanyahu told his confidants he was serious about early elections over the new public broadcaster.
“You didn’t understand me in 2014 [when Netanyahu called early elections], and you don’t understand me now,” the prime minister was quoted as saying, adding that the Israeli media landscape was an issue “close to his heart.”
However, others in the coalition and in Netanyahu’s own Likud party have cautioned him against calling new elections over the issue.
Deri tries to bring sides together
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri told Channel 2 it would be “unforgivable to head to elections over the broadcaster.”
He said he spoke with coalition party leaders, including Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beytenu and Naftali Bennett of Jewish Home, on Sunday. The Shas minister said on Tursday, after Netanyahu returns from China, the coalition leaders will meet and “we won’t leave the room until a solution is found.”
“The people of Israel will not forgive us for going to elections” over this issue, Deri said.
In 2014, the Knesset passed broad reforms that would close the Israel Broadcasting Authority and replace it with a state-funded corporation formally called “Kan” and widely known as Hata’agid (The Corporation). Despite having supported the original legislation, Netanyahu has repeatedly delayed the launch of the new broadcaster and is now trying to scrap it completely.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.