Lapid, Liberman discuss replacing PM; Bennett talks to parties on right and left

New Hope MK: Likud representatives offered me ‘half a kingdom’ to defect; Joint List MK: We won’t cooperate with anti-Netanyahu bloc for free

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avidgor Liberman (L) talks with then-Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid in the cafeteria of the Knesset on October 3, 2019. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avidgor Liberman (L) talks with then-Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid in the cafeteria of the Knesset on October 3, 2019. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman met Friday for the first time since Tuesday’s election to discuss ways to cooperate in order to potentially form a government to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The two agreed to remain in touch and meet again soon, a spokesperson for Yesh Atid said.

Meanwhile, in a statement Friday, Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett said he’d spoken over the past two days with the heads of all non-Arab parties from the right and the left, wished them a happy Passover, and “stressed the need to take responsible, principled action in order to release Israel from chaos and allow it to return to functioning properly as soon as possible.”

Bennett, who has not committed to supporting the pro- or anti-Netanyahu blocs, is seen as a linchpin of any future coalition in the wake of the deadlocked election.

Liberman, whose party won seven seats, hinted ahead of the election that he plans to recommend that Lapid, whose party won 17 seats, be tasked with forming the next government. The leaders of Labor — seven seats — and Meretz — six seats — have also indicated they will back the Yesh Atid chairman, giving him 37 recommendations.

After the formal election results are delivered to President Reuven Rivlin next week, he will hold consultations with senior representatives of each Knesset party, hear who they recommend for prime minister, and then charge the candidate he judges has the best chance of mustering a Knesset majority with the task of forming a new government.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, whose party won eight seats, has said he will recommend whoever has the best chance at forming a government, not ruling out Lapid either.

Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope won just six seats after a campaign in which he vowed to become the next prime minister. The right-wing lawmaker pledged during the campaign not to sit under Lapid. However, the two have spoken since the election and have agreed to cooperate in order to replace Netanyahu.

New Hope party leader Gideon Sa’ar and party members at the New Hope headquarters in Tel Aviv, on election night, March 23, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Lapid could receive an additional six recommendations from the Joint List, whose chairman Ayman Odeh has not ruled out backing the Yesh Atid leader.

However, Odeh’s No. 2 Ahmad Tibi told Kan news on Friday that the Joint List would have considerable requirements from the parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc who are asking for their support, both on recommendations to the president and on replacing the Knesset chairman in order to strip control of parliament from Netanyahu’s Likud.

“Not everything comes automatically — we have demands,” Tibi said.

Joint List party member Ahmad Tibi speaks during a press conference presenting the Joint list Hebrew-language election campaign in Tel Aviv, February 23, 2021 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

If Lapid receives the backing of Blue and White, New Hope and the Joint List, he’ll have 57 recommendations — five more than Netanyahu if the premier receives the backing of Shas (nine seats), United Torah Judaism (seven seats) and Religious Zionism (six seats).

Yamina head Naftali Bennett at a party event on March 23, 2021. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)

Yamina’s Bennett, whose party won seven seats; and Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas, whose party won four seats, are less likely to recommend either Netanyahu or Lapid but are seen as coalition kingmakers with options of cooperating with either bloc.

As Netanyahu’s bloc, when Yamina is included, is just two seats shy of a majority, Likud has been seeking to coax lawmakers from the opposite side into deserting their current faction in order to join a right-wing, religious coalition.

The most likely candidates appear to be in New Hope, which is closest aligned ideologically to Likud and made up mainly of former members of the party.

Likud MK Sharren Haskel announcing her resignation from the Knesset and the Likud party, on December 23, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

New Hope’s Sharren Haskel tweeted Friday that Likud representatives had offered her “half a kingdom” in order to defect.

“Not a chance. I am loyal to the values on which New Hope was established, and not whatever portfolio you’re offering me. Give up,” she wrote.

On Thursday, the No. 2 lawmaker in New Hope, Yifat Shasha-Biton, said that several of Netanyahu’s associates had also tried to convince her to leave her party and join the premier’s Likud faction.

“It’s no secret that there is very intense pressure for us to join a government led by Likud, including for myself personally,” Shasha-Biton told Channel 12. “I have received official communications, as have other members of New Hope, but it’s not going to happen.”

MK Yifat Shasha-Biton. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Yoaz Hendel, another lawmaker in New Hope, hinted at a similar effort to entice him to join Likud.

“To everyone contacting me — a text message campaign in the middle of Passover cleaning isn’t going to make any difference,” Hendel wrote on Twitter, referring to a tradition ahead of the upcoming holiday. “Now, with the final election results, there is only the possibility of a change in government. Give up on the phone calls and go and clean.”

Sa’ar is a harsh critic of Netanyahu who has repeatedly vowed not to join a coalition led by Netanyahu. New Hope had a disappointing showing in the election after once polling at over 20 seats.

Sa’ar tweeted Friday, “I call on Netanyahu to step aside. Release Israel from your grasp and allow us to move onward.”

Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich on Thursday called on Sa’ar and Yamina’s Bennett to join Netanyahu’s bloc and “put personal matters aside and enter a right-wing government.”

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