Lapid calls on Netanyahu to quit, says ‘government isn’t functioning’ during war

Likud slams remarks, accuses opposition leader of seeking government that will establish Palestinian state; Yesh Atid clarifies: He called for a new PM, not a new ruling party

Illustrative: Opposition Leader Yair Lapid speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv, October 26, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
File: Opposition Leader Yair Lapid speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv, October 26, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid on Wednesday called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign over what he called the government’s poor handling of the war against Hamas.

“Netanyahu needs to go now during the fighting,” the Yesh Atid leader told Channel 12 news — the first time he has openly called for the premier’s ouster since the beginning of the war.

“We will sit [in government] under another candidate from the Likud,” he said, claiming that he was in discussions with leaders of the ruling party on the subject. “There are many people there who understand the country is going to a bad place.”

“This government isn’t functioning,” he continued. “We need change — Netanyahu cannot continue to be prime minister. We cannot allow ourselves to conduct a prolonged campaign with a prime minister that the public has no faith in,” he added.

Lapid said he was ready to create a “national reconstruction government” led by the Likud, with ultra-Orthodox parties, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, and Benny Gantz’s National Unity, but stressed that “Netanyahu cannot lead it.”

Lapid did not join the war cabinet established six days after Hamas’s October 7 onslaught alongside Gantz, claiming it would not be able to function. He had preconditioned his joining the government on the ousting of far-right ministers Bezalel Smotrich, who leads Religious Zionism, and Itamar Ben Gvir, the leader of Otzma Yehudit.

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes the hand of then-newly appointed minister Benny Gantz, at a special plenum session presenting the new emergency government in the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, October 12, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Many Israelis have accused the government of an inept, chaotic response to the crisis, including the slow reaction of the army to the terrorists’ invasion, leaving civilians to defend themselves for hours; shortages of military equipment during the reservist call-up; and a sluggish civil response in support of those displaced by the fighting.

The lack of action has prompted civil society groups to fill in the gaps left by what they see as an ineffectual state response.

The ruling Likud party slammed Lapid for his remarks, accusing him of seeking to establish a government that would pursue a Palestinian state.

“It is unfortunate and shameful that Lapid is playing politics during a war when he suggests ousting the prime minister who leads the campaign and replacing him with a government that will establish a Palestinian state and allow the Palestinian Authority to control Gaza,” the party said in a statement.

Netanyahu has not made it clear which body would govern the enclave following the war, but has written off any “civil authority that educates its children to hate Israel, to kill Israelis, to eliminate the State of Israel,” an apparent reference to the PA, which rules parts of the West Bank.

Responding to the Likud statement, Yesh Atid said it had missed the point made by Lapid, who had never called for the party to be replaced in its leading role in the government.

“Lapid suggested a government led by Likud, with a Likud prime minister that isn’t Netanyahu. That’s how we start the national healing,” the statement read.

War erupted after Hamas-led terrorists launched a devastating onslaught on October 7, in which they rampaged through southern communities, killing over 1,200 people, mostly civilians butchered in their homes and at a music festival, and kidnapping some 240 people. Israel then declared war with the aim of toppling the terror group’s regime in Gaza, which it has ruled since 2007.

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