Lapid said ready to be 2nd in rotation with Bennett but won’t let him form gov’t

Yesh Atid party head reportedly worried that if Yamina chair is tasked by Rivlin with assembling coalition, he may then join forces with Netanyahu rather than work to replace him

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, left, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett at the opening session of the Knesset in January, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, left, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett at the opening session of the Knesset in January, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid is reportedly willing to allow Yamina chief Naftali Bennett to serve as prime minister first in a potential rotation deal in a new government, but does not trust him to be tasked by President Reuven Rivlin with forming it.

On Tuesday night, New Hope party leader Gideon Sa’ar urged Lapid to “put ego aside,” in an apparent call to let Bennett serve as prime minister first. But the Yesh Atid chair insisted parties in the bloc dedicated to ousting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must first recommend him as their candidate for prime minister so that Rivlin charges him with forming a government. Once that happens, Lapid said, there will be “nothing I’m unwilling to consider.”

Quoted by both the Ynet news site and the Maariv daily Wednesday morning, Yesh Atid sources said that Bennett could not be trusted to work to replace Netanyahu and that the focus of the so-called “change bloc” over the coming week should be on ensuring Rivlin does not task Netanyahu with forming a government following next week’s consultations with faction representatives on whom they back for prime minister.

“In order to form a government, Lapid will agree to be second in rotation,” Ynet quoted Yesh Atid sources as saying.

“But Bennett needs to first announce that he is joining [Lapid],” they added. “Bennett cannot be trusted to form a government with the change bloc.”

Yesh Atid chair Yair Lapid during a conference in Jerusalem March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Rivlin will hold two days of consultations beginning April 5 on whom each party backs to form the next government. He will task a lawmaker with doing so by April 7.

The final results of last week’s election left no clear path to a majority for Netanyahu nor his rivals, the fourth election in two years to end inconclusively. However, the prospect of a fifth election has spurred speculation that unlikely bedfellows could come together in an effort to oust Netanyahu or, alternatively, to enable him to retain power.

According to Ynet, Yesh Atid party sources charged that “Bennett does not really want to replace Netanyahu” and that “he will accept the mandate [to form a government] and run away to Bibi.”

Pointing a finger at Sa’ar, Yesh Atid sources were quoted in Maariv as saying that if the parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc fail to recommend Lapid to form a government, “they are actually recommending Netanyahu and then all the power goes to him.”

“The only one in our bloc who can get the mandate is Lapid. It’s either Bibi or Lapid,” they reportedly said, referring to the Likud leader by his nickname.

Lapid, whose 17-seat centrist party is the largest in the “change bloc” seeking to replace Netanyahu as premier, has met with several fellow faction leaders in recent days as part of coalition-building efforts. He has so far been endorsed by Yisrael Beytenu (7 seats), Labor (7) and Meretz (6) to form the next government — for a total of 37 backers.

Five members of the 6-strong Joint List are reportedly set to recommend Lapid as well. Benny Gantz said Tuesday his Blue and White party (8 seats) would “automatically” back Lapid, provided that support would lift him to a 61-strong majority in the 120-member Knesset.

Netanyahu, whose Likud won 30, can also expect the endorsement of the Shas (9), United Torah Judaism (7) and Religious Zionism (6) parties — 52 seats in all.

Before the March 23 election, Bennett ruled out serving in a government headed by Lapid, as did Sa’ar, whose New Hope has 6 seats.

Yamina party leader MK Naftali Bennett attends a Channel 12 news conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yamina only has seven seats but has not committed to either bloc, positioning Bennett as a potential kingmaker. Also undecided is Mansour Abbas’s Islamic conservative party Ra’am, with four seats.

According to a report by the Kan public broadcaster Wednesday morning, Blue and White officials trying to facilitate a deal between Lapid and Bennett said that discussions between the sides had effectively broken down.

“Bennett is not willing to discuss anything related to the anti-Netanyahu bloc as long as he is not assured that he is the first in rotation as prime minister. On the other hand, Lapid is also not willing to give it up [the task of forming the government],” Blue and White sources were quoted by Kan as saying.

Lapid publicly responded to Sa’ar’s Saturday night call for him to “put ego aside,” saying “there is nothing I’m unwilling to consider” to replace Netanyahu as prime minister.

“I said during the campaign and I say again now: The country is more important than my personal ambitions or anyone else’s,” Lapid wrote on Facebook.

“For this not happen, all the change bloc parties need to recommend Yesh Atid,” he said. “The moment the process begins, everything is on the table. We’re prepared for painful concessions, the important thing is to form a change government and to go to work to cure the country of two years of a social and political crisis.”

Sa’ar wrote back, saying Lapid’s proposal was “backward.”

“The time to step aside is now. Afterward, it might be too late,” Sa’ar warned.

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

Sa’ar, a former minister, left Likud in December to form New Hope with the aim of replacing Netanyahu. Shortly after its formation, New Hope polled as high as 21 seats, but the party steadily shed support to finish with just six in last week’s election.

Lapid met with Blue and White party chief Gantz and Ra’am leader Abbas on Sunday. Abbas, like Bennett, has not committed to either bloc since the election and could tip the scale in either side’s favor.

Yamina lashed out at Lapid on Sunday, after his meetings with Gantz and Abbas, claiming the Yesh Atid chief intended to form “a left-wing government with the full support of Arabs.”

Lapid was set to meet Gantz again Wednesday, according to Yesh Atid.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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