Newly sacked finance minister Yair Lapid, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and popular ex-Likud minister Moshe Kahlon, whose newly created party will run in the 2015 elections, are said to be in talks for a new partnership to counter Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reported alliance with Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.
According to Channel 10, the three politicians have reportedly been discussing a potential alliance for weeks, in anticipation of Netanyahu calling for early elections.
While the report indicated that the chances were slim to none that the three parties — Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beytenu and the not-yet-named Kahlon faction — would formally and fully join forces, it said that the three could cooperate in other ways, including presenting a united front on whom to recommend for the premiership following the elections, and agreeing to not target each other during the campaign in the run-up to March 17.
What the three have in common is a desire to see someone other than Netanyahu at the helm, the report said.
According to a Channel 10 poll, such a trilateral alliance would hold 33 seats while the Netanyahu-Bennett partnership would garner 39.
Earlier Wednesday, Lapid launched a scathing attack on Netanyahu, asserting that the “disconnected” prime minister put his own interests above those of the country and promising that his Yesh Atid party would carry the new elections in three months.
Speaking in Tel Aviv, Lapid also denied the prime minister’s accusation that he had been involved in an attempted “putsch” to bring down Netanyahu’s government from within, and alleged that Netanyahu had cut a deal with the ultra-Orthodox on a future coalition partnership. But he devoted most of his speech to repeating his mantra that the prime minister was cut off from reality.
“You have no idea what [a new round of elections] does to the citizens of Israel because you live in your aquarium. And for a long time you haven’t known who the people are and what really troubles them,” Lapid said.
By calling elections after just two years, Lapid said of Netanyahu, “You announced to the Israeli public that you prefer to paralyze the Israeli economy. To burden the economy with billions in expenses. That you are holding up the most socially aware budget in years, a budget you voted for. That you are taking away the only opportunity thousands of young couples have ever had to own an apartment.”
The attack came as Israeli politicians began to prepare for a new round of elections, after Netanyahu’s government collapsed 20 months after being inaugurated.
Earlier in the day, in a preliminary vote, Knesset members voted overwhelmingly in favor of dissolving the current Knesset. A first reading of the bill later Wednesday was also approved, with all 22 Knesset members present voting in favor. Election day was set for March 17, 2015.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu had gone on the offensive himself, alleging that he was forced to end the coalition because Lapid and also-fired justice minister Tzipi Livni had attempted a “putsch.”
Lapid responded Wednesday, saying Netanyahu had “whined” to the Israeli public “that people tried to organize a ‘putsch’ against you, something which never happened… That’s not even disconnected, that’s living in a fantasy world. I tried to overthrow you? Do you hear yourself? Who sold you that absurdity? And what caused you listen to it?”
Lapid went on to accuse Netanyahu of refusing to raise the minimum wage, increase the education budget, and allocate more money for public health, instead choosing to protect the interests of Likud Central Committee members and supporters.
The Yesh Atid chief said Netanyahu had mishandled relations with the United States to the point that he often had to run interference with lawmakers in Washington.
Lapid charged that Netanyahu had similarly botched the summer’s military campaign in Gaza.
Answering questions after the speech, Lapid promised that “Benjamin Netanyahu will not be the prime minister after these elections.”
“I am competing to be the prime minister,” he said, “and Yesh Atid will win these elections.”
The former finance minister, who swept into the Knesset in 2013 with a party of political freshmen, professed himself unfazed by Yesh Atid’s current poll ratings — some of which predict a fall from its current 19 seats to about 10.
He did not rule out sitting in a future coalition with the ultra-Orthodox, provided they “equally share the burden” of responsibilities in Israel.
Tzipi Livni also sharply criticized the prime minister for his “hysterical” speech and what she characterized as political cowardice in what is emerging as a major talking point of both her Hatnua party and the similarly ousted Yesh Atid.
Snap polls by the two major television stations indicated that if elections were to be held today, Netanyahu’s Likud party would make gains at the expense of Lapid’s and Livni’s parties. According to a Channel 10 poll, Likud would win 22 seats, Jewish Home 17, Labor 13, Yisrael Beytenu 12, former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon’s as-yet-unnamed party 12, Yesh Atid nine, the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism eight, Shas seven, Meretz seven, Hatnua four and the Arab parties nine.
A similar survey by Channel 2 showed Likud with 22, Jewish Home 17, Labor 13, Kahlon and Yisrael Beytenu with 10 apiece, Yesh Atid with nine, Shas with nine, United Torah Judaism with eight, Meretz with seven, Hatnua with four, and the Arab parties with 11.
Both polls would have made pleasant reading for Netanyahu, showing a strengthening of the right and numerous potential coalition options for him.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.