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Lapid: ‘I’m not scared of early elections’

Yesh Atid leader slams PM for ‘standing idly by’ as key issues hijacked by Likud hardliners; ‘Jewish state’ bill won’t pass in current form

Finance Minister Yair Lapid with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo credit: Flash90)
Finance Minister Yair Lapid with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo credit: Flash90)

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, said Saturday that he was not afraid to go to early elections, amid growing speculation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may dissolve the government over a coalition crisis surrounding his controversial “Jewish state” bill.

Netanyahu is reportedly set to decide on whether to call for early elections by Monday.

At a gathering in Tel Aviv Saturday afternoon, Lapid said early elections do not scare him but it was “not what the State of Israel needs at the moment.”

He also said the “Jewish state” bill would not become law in its current form, and warned that the debate surrounding the proposed legislation was harming Israel’s international relations.

Lapid panned Netanyahu for not acting decisively on key issues, causing a deadlock in the government.

On important issues, “everything is stuck, and Netanyahu is standing idly by. The state budget, international relations, the personal security of Israeli citizens, housing and so on,” Lapid said.

“Instead of dealing with what is important, [he] is dealing with polls and [is worrying about] political survival,” he added.

Lapid spoke bitterly of “five strong Likud central committee members who are ruling the country and influencing the party.” He accused these activists of taking hostage the state budget — set to pass in March 2015 — and using it to make political deals.

“The state budget is stuck because these five central committee members are pressuring Netanyahu and convincing him not to accept the budget, and I don’t understand why he’s going along with it,” Lapid said.

Lapid said Netanyahu need to “stand up to his own party” and tell its members that “the festival of corruption is over.”

On Friday, Netanyahu expressed concern about indications that the state budget would not pass by the March deadline, given the coalition crisis, and blasted Lapid for trying to push through his 0% tax housing bill, according to a Channel 2 report.

“This is a law that will waste millions [of shekels] and will not affect the housing market,” Netanyahu reportedly said, adding that he would not allow Lapid to harm the defense budget.

Lapid also denied reports Saturday that he was pushing to build an alternative coalition without Netanyahu. On Friday, Likud sources told Channel 10 that they want the Knesset legal adviser to check whether Lapid is plotting what they called an attempt at a “putsch.”

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. We are not trying to build an alternative coalition,” Lapid said.

For its part, Yesh Atid asked the Knesset legal adviser on Friday to check whether Netanyahu is negotiating agreements for the next government with the ultra-Orthodox parties, and whether this is legal.

Lapid addressed concerns over the “Jewish state” law and said that he does not believe the legislation will pass in its current form.

“We are paying for this [proposed] law in deteriorating relations with world countries and in negative headlines in international media,” he said.

The bill, which would enshrine Israel’s character as a Jewish state in Israel’s de facto constitution, has come under harsh criticism from Lapid, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, as well as opposition lawmakers, President Reuven Rivlin, and his predecessor Shimon Peres.

“I am in favor of a nationality bill, but the existing draft will not pass as is,” said Lapid.

Critics say the law is undemocratic to Israel’s Arab and other minority populations. A stormy cabinet meeting on the bill at the beginning of the week saw Livni accuse Netanyahu of backing the legislation in order to try and pry apart the coalition so that he can call elections.

Netanyahu has vowed to push the measure through, saying that it would guarantee equal rights for the country’s citizens and put Israel’s democratic and Jewish characters on equal footing.

The PM has presented 14 “principles” — a two-page articulation of the guiding principles for the as-yet unsubmitted government version of the nation-state bill — as a softened version to the more “right-wing” versions submitted by MKs Ze’ev Elkin, Yariv Levin, Robert Ilatov and Ayelet Shaked.

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