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Ra'am reportedly says won't agree to civil marriage

Lapid and Bennett hold talks with political leaders aimed at ‘unity government’

Meetings ‘held in good spirits and with a willingness to proceed,’ but tensions said growing between Yamina and Labor; Liberman issues list of demands to enter coalition

Left to right: Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid (Miriam Alster/Flash90); Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett; and New Hope party head Gideon Sa'ar (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Left to right: Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid (Miriam Alster/Flash90); Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett; and New Hope party head Gideon Sa'ar (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, currently tasked with forming a government, and Yamina chair Naftali Bennett, held a series of meetings with political leaders on Friday aimed at establishing a unity government.

“The meetings were all held in good spirits and with a willingness to proceed,” a joint statement from the “change bloc” leaders said after the talks.

A first meeting was held with New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar. Yesh Atid said in a statement that the discussions, held at Lapid’s home in Tel Aviv, “advanced positively.”

Lapid and Bennett have been negotiating coalition terms in recent weeks, reportedly closing in on agreements in many areas, with the Yesh Atid leader saying he is ready to let Bennett serve first as prime minister in a rotation agreement.

After the meeting, Bennett met separately with Labor party leader Merav Michaeli at her home in Tel Aviv before he and Lapid met with Blue and White chief Benny Gantz.

Indicating some tension, Michaeli’s partner, comedian Lior Schleien, tweeted that: “The head of a party with six seats is trying to explain to the head of a party with 7 seats why he should be prime minister and she should be agriculture minister. I miss the tap dancer who used to live in the apartment above me, he annoyed me less.”

Bennett and Lapid then held meetings with Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz and Yisrael Beiteinu chief Avigdor Liberman.

Labor party leader MK Merav Michaeli speaks during a meeting in Tel Aviv, March 24, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The so-called “change bloc” of parties opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is said to be formulating laws that would allow the wide range of factions to work together, the Haaretz daily reported.

With parties from all over the political spectrum united in their aim to replace Netanyahu, the sides would likely need to make baseline agreements, the Kan public broadcaster said.

“Whatever passes will pass — and what falls will fall,” a source involved in the political negotiations told Kan, referring broadly to potential laws that would be brought up for a vote if such a government would be formed.

President Reuven Rivlin announced Wednesday that he had tasked Lapid with forming Israel’s next government after Netanyahu a day earlier admitted he had failed to build a coalition in the 28 days he was given to do so.

While acknowledging the difficulties in forming a unity government, Lapid said on Thursday that his coalition “will have a simple goal: to take the country out of this crisis — the coronavirus crisis, the economic crisis, the political crisis and mostly the crisis within us, within the people of Israel.”

President Reuven Rivlin (R) meets Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, May 5, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

In addition to resolving their own differences, Lapid and Bennett must muster a majority coalition from an unlikely mixture of right-wing, left-wing and centrist parties as well as the Islamist Ra’am party, which complicates matters and raises the question of how stable such a government would be to begin with.

And they must placate their own party members, who will likely struggle to reconcile their views with their emerging coalition partners.

Yamina’s Amichai Chikli has said he will vote against the planned coalition. Several other Yamina Knesset members said Thursday that Netanyahu has been attempting to persuade them to defect from the party and declare their opposition to entering a coalition with left-wing factions; they said they had rejected the efforts.

Yamina MK Matan Kahana on Friday said the time had come for a unity government.

MK Matan Kahana speaks during a visit to the Oz Vegaon nature reserve in Gush Etzion, on October 22, 2020 (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

“Netanyahu is busy dragging Israel to the fifth election. I think this is the worst option,” Kahana said in a post on his Facebook page.

Kahana said that Israel needed a  government that “won’t hand over Hebron, won’t release thousands of terrorists, won’t vote for the expulsion of Jews from their homes, and won’t do many things that, yes, Benjamin Netanyahu did.”

Meanwhile, Liberman published on Friday a list of requirements for his party to enter a unity government, including passing the so-called draft law, which would require ultra-Orthodox Israelis to be conscripted to the military like most other Israelis.

Yisrael Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Liberman’s demands did not widely differ from the party’s platform, including de-monopolizing the Chief Rabbinate’s control over the kosher certification for food in Israel and a demand for civil marriage.

However, an unnamed source from the Islamist Ra’am party told Channel 12 news that it would not agree to civil marriage and the “violation of family values.”

If Lapid fails to cobble together a coalition during his 28-day window, which ends June 2, a majority of lawmakers could try to endorse any Knesset member as prime minister.

If that 21-day period fails to yield a coalition, the country would be forced into the unprecedented scenario of a fifth election in two and a half years.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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