Yair Lapid, the co-leader of the newly formed Blue and White party, has cleared some of the fog surrounding the alliance’s policies, saying that if it wins the upcoming elections it will contact Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud to form a unity government, assuming Netanyahu is no longer leading the party.
At an event Sunday night in the northern city of Karmiel, Benny Gantz’s No. 2 stressed that the party would not band together with the Arab parties to form a government or to block Netanyahu from forming his own coalition.
Lapid was denying repeated accusations by Netanyahu that Blue and White intends to cooperate with Arab-Israeli parties in its bid for leadership change.
“We didn’t speak with them, we didn’t ask them,” Lapid told a cheering crowd at the event, in a recorded speech that was aired by Israel Radio on Monday morning.
Instead, Lapid said that if his party is tasked with forming the next government, its first phone call will be to the current ruling party.
“We won’t form a government with the Arab parties, we will contact Likud — the post-Netanyahu Likud, that is — to form a national unity government at this time of division and rifts,” he said, claiming that “Netanyahu won’t stay if he loses.”
“It will be a very broad government that will be capable of accomplishing many goals,” Lapid said. “Of course, Likud will be one of… if not the first phone call to form a government. Likud is, after all, an important Zionist party, it has good people and its slate for the next Knesset is not bad. We would definitely be happy to contact them.”
Responding to the report, Likud said in a statement that “Lapid and Gantz will only establish a weak and leftist government with the support of Arab parties, they don’t have another choice. The first call Lapid will make will be to Tamar Zandberg of Meretz, who said today that she is ready to give up on the Golan Heights. Only a large Likud will prevent a leftist government.”
The Labor party was quick to condemn Lapid’s remarks. MK Itzik Shmuli, the party’s No. 3, said: “The truth has been revealed. The Gantz party speaks about an alternative, but is content with what we currently have.
“They’ll have no problem sitting with Netanyahu — they are here to serve him as ministers and not to replace him and bring about change,” he claimed. “This is a coarse misdirection of the public that wants change in the country, which must now open its eyes and return home to the Labor party.”
Lapid, chairman of the centrist Yesh Atid party, announced the alliance with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience on Thursday, the last day before party slates for the April vote had to be submitted. Lapid is number two on the merged Blue and White list, with the better-polling Gantz first.
The deal reached between the two says that Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid will act as a single Knesset faction in the upcoming term — leaving the door open to a future split — and that all decisions will be made jointly, the Ynet website reported Sunday.
The joint leadership will include Gantz, Lapid and former IDF chiefs Moshe Ya’alon — whose Telem party was the first to join forces with Gantz — and Gabi Ashkenazi, who joined the alliance at the last moment after brokering the merger deal.
On Saturday, Lapid appeared on Channel 12 and refused to answer questions about whether Blue and White would be open to joining a Likud government — merely saying it will not join a Netanyahu-led coalition if he is indicted for corruption — saying that he had not yet worked out all the details with Gantz. That seemed to indicate that Lapid’s remarks on Sunday are accepted by Gantz and the rest of the party.
Also during the Karmiel event, Lapid could be heard promising to change the nation-state law passed by the current government, which enshrines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, but was widely criticized as marginalizing religious minorities and failing to mention the value of equality.
“We will fix the nation-state law to add the civil equality clause,” Lapid said, indicating that it will also be his party’s position — despite the fact that Zvi Hauser, one of the authors of the law, is a member of Blue and White, and No. 14 on its Knesset slate.
Hauser — a former Netanyahu chief of staff — in the past dismissed criticism of the failure to mention equality in the nation-state law, telling the Israel National News website in October that equality did not have to be mentioned, since it is already enshrined in other laws and is a fundamental value in the Israeli justice system.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.