Joint List’s Odeh and Tibi meet with Lapid, say they could back him for PM

Arab faction leaders and Yesh Atid chief discuss controversial nation-state law, violence in Arab towns; meeting comes as head of rival Ra’am set to give primetime address

Joint List's Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi give a statement after their meeting with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid in Tel Aviv, April 1, 2021. (Screen grab)
Joint List's Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi give a statement after their meeting with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid in Tel Aviv, April 1, 2021. (Screen grab)

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid met with the Joint List’s leader Ayman Odeh and senior party MK Ahmad Tibi at a Tel Aviv hotel on Thursday, ahead of President Reuven Rivlin’s consultations next week on who should be tasked first with forming the next government.

Lapid’s meeting with the Joint List leaders came hours ahead of a primetime address by their ex-colleague-turned-potential kingmaker, Mansour Abbas of the Ra’am party.

In a statement, Yesh Atid said Lapid met with Odeh and Tibi, and the three “discussed ways to form a new government that will prevent [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, [far-right Religious Zionism’s Itamar] Ben Gvir and [Bezalel] Smotrich forming a government.”

“The three discussed a range of painful issues affecting the Arab community, especially the scourge of violence, and possible solutions,” the statement read. “They agreed to continue discussions to explore the options available to change both the current government and Netanyahu’s policies, and to bring about real change.”

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid speaks at party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on election night, March 23, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In a separate statement, the Joint List leaders reiterated that they will not consider recommending Lapid unless he receives 55 recommendations from other MKs.

“First of all, [Lapid] must reach 55 recommendations. If he reaches that number, we are prepared to examine the matter from all angles, through all the issues, from the overarching national cause to the issues that matter to Arab citizens [of Israel],” Odeh said.

Odeh mentioned the controversial Jewish nation-state law, fighting violence and organized crime in Arab communities, the 2017 Kaminitz law seen as targeting illegal Arab construction, and budgets for Arab municipalities as key issues.

Tibi also cited improving urban planning and reducing unemployment among Arab Israelis as priorities.

The meeting was not attended by Balad head Sami Abou Shahadeh, who has said his faction within the party will not recommend anyone for prime minister. The remaining five MKs from the predominantly Arab party are widely expected to endorse Lapid for prime minister, but if he receives the prerequisite 55 recommendations, the Joint List would still only take him to 60 MKs.

The meeting came amid continued political deadlock following last week’s election, which saw neither Netanyahu’s allies nor his rivals muster enough seats to form a coalition.

In the absence of a clear winner, Netanyahu’s rivals in the so-called “change bloc” — composed of centrist, right-wing and left-wing parties — were clamoring to line up enough support to form a government instead of the Likud leader, but were split on who should lead such a coalition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) in the Knesset on July 29, 2013, with Naftali Bennett (left) and Gideon Sa’ar. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90/File)

Likud won 30 seats in the election, becoming the largest party. Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid won 17 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, while Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina picked up seven.

Lapid has met with several fellow faction leaders in recent days as part of coalition-building efforts. He has so far been endorsed by Yisrael Beytenu (7 seats), Labor (7) and Meretz (6) to form the next government — for a total of 37 backers.

Benny Gantz said his Blue and White party (8 seats) would “automatically” back Lapid, provided that support would lift him to a 61-strong majority in the 120-member Knesset.

Netanyahu can expect the endorsement of the Shas (9), United Torah Judaism (7) and Religious Zionism (6) parties — 52 seats in all together with Likud’s 30.

Before the election, both New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar and Bennett said they want to see Netanyahu removed from power, but also vowed to not let Lapid be prime minister.

Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas and party members at the party’s headquarters in Tamra, on election night, March 23, 2021 (Flash90)

Ra’am, with just four seats, could be in a position to tip the scale for either bloc. Lapid has courted Ra’am leader Abbas, who is reportedly leaning toward supporting a Likud government from the outside and is set to make a television announcement on Thursday night.

Collaboration with Ra’am faces strong opposition from within Likud and the Religious Zionist parties, which accuse the party of being anti-Zionist and supporting Palestinian terrorism.

A poll released Wednesday showed that nearly two-thirds of voters who backed parties seeking to oust Netanyahu from power believe Lapid should stand aside and let Bennett be prime minister instead.

Though Lapid is reportedly willing to let Bennett serve first in a coalition that would see them rotate the premiership, he insists on being the one recommended to Rivlin to try to cobble together a coalition.

Quoted by both the Ynet news site and the Maariv daily Wednesday morning, Yesh Atid sources said that Bennett could not be trusted to work to replace Netanyahu and that the focus of the “change bloc” over the coming week should be on ensuring Rivlin does not task Netanyahu with forming a government following next week’s consultations with faction representatives on whom they back for prime minister.

Rivlin will hold two days of consultations beginning April 5 on whom each party backs to form the next government. He will task a lawmaker with doing so by April 7.

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