Lapid says Joint List doesn’t want to be in his coalition, urges Labor-Meretz merger

PM doesn’t rule out partnership with Arab-majority party if it changes tune, says unity on the left ‘incredibly important’

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting in Tel Aviv on August 25, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting in Tel Aviv on August 25, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday said that the majority-Arab Joint List will not be part of his government following November’s election, but sidestepped questions as to whether he would include the politically contentious party if it were to become amenable to joining a coalition.

“The Joint List won’t be in the government because the Joint List doesn’t want to be in the government — they said it a thousand times,” Lapid said in response to reporter questions at the opening of his Yesh Atid party’s Thursday faction meeting. “Talk to us after the elections,” he added.

Lapid’s political rivals, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and the right-religious bloc he leads, are campaigning on a narrative that Lapid can only form a government with the help of the Joint List and Islamist party Ra’am, the latter of which is one of Lapid’s current political partners.

Lapid has not said explicitly that he would not include the Joint List — which has never sat in an Israeli coalition — in the government; rather, his and his party’s official line is that it won’t happen because of the Joint List’s lack of interest in joining.

Yesh Atid ministers and lawmakers have raised the possibility of collaborating with the Joint List on specific issues in the future, and to again receive its recommendation to form a government after the November elections. The Joint List routinely cooperates on an issue-by-issue basis with parties across the political spectrum, but last May was the first time it recommended a candidate for prime minister.

With respect to Netanyahu, however — his one-time coalition partner, who is on trial for alleged corruption — Lapid clearly said that the option of a partnership was off the table. “We won’t sit with Netanyahu in a government,” he said.

Join List faction leader Ayman Odeh and constituent party leader Ahmad Tibi represent the Joint List during an election event in Nof HaGalil, February 20, 2021. (Roni Ofer/Flash90)

Responding to Lapid’s remarks Thursday, Netanyahu’s Likud party said the prime minister needed the Joint List to form a government.

“Lapid has no way of forming a government without the Joint List, but Israel needs a stable nationalist government — and only the Likud can form it for the next four years,” a statement from the party read.

Lapid’s outgoing government is a big-tent amalgamation of parties across the left, right, centrist, and Arab corners of Israel’s political map.

Unite the left

Addressing another corner of the political map, Lapid also called on the left-wing Meretz and Labor parties to unify their slates before the September 15 party list deadline, in order to best prevent the return to power of right-wing political rivals.

Lapid said that it is “incredibly important” the two left-wing parties run together, because if one of the parties running alone fails to pass the 3.25 percent electoral threshold needed to enter Knesset, “it will bring back [Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Itamar] Ben Gvir.”

While freshly reelected Meretz leader Zehava Galon, whose party polls between four and five seats, is in favor of a joint run, Labor leader Merav Michaeli — polling at five — is staunchly against the team-up.

Then-Meretz leader Zehava Galon, left, speaks to thousands of Israeli left-wing activists during a rally in Tel-Aviv on May 27, 2017; Labor leader Merav Michaeli attends a conference in Rishon Lezion on July 19, 2022. (Gili Yaari/Flash90; Flash90)

The prime minister’s Yesh Atid party will not be offering itself as an alternative safety line, and will continue to run independently.

Israel’s ongoing election campaign has battled for headlines this week with a number of crises, including a potential American return to what Lapid on Thursday called a “bad” nuclear deal with Iran and a threatened teachers’ strike delaying the school year opening.

On Wednesday, Lapid convened foreign reporters to say that the emerging Iranian deal is a “bad deal” that “does not obligate” Israel, a message that he reiterated in response to reporter questions on Thursday.

Lapid blamed his predecessor Netanyahu for the US’s ascension to the previous iteration of the deal, which it was party to from 2015 to 2018.

“In 2015, the reason that a nuclear agreement was signed was because of the scandalous speech by Netanyahu in Congress that caused the American government to throw Israel out of the room in which conversations were being had and sign an agreement without even consulting with us,” Lapid said.

Netanyahu on Wednesday said that the only way to influence American politicians is by influencing the American public, and attacked Lapid for criticizing his controversial 2015 speech to Congress, which deepened the rift with former US president Barack Obama’s administration.

Lapid also said on Thursday that through managing dialogue with Americans “the correct way” with “patience and determination,” Israel has been able to successfully influence American positions on the deal meant to prevent Iranian development of a nuclear weapon, and that Defense Minister Benny Gantz and national security adviser Eyal Hulata’s visits to Washington this week include discussions on the issue.

“The Americans accepted a large part of the points that we wanted them to include in the drafts,” Lapid said in response to a reporter’s question. “The dialogue with them is good.”

National Security Council chairman Eyal Hulata (L) and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in front of the White House on October 5, 2021. (Jake Sullivan/Twitter)

The status of dialogue with the teachers’ union, however, was less rosy, with Lapid saying only that “an intensive negotiation is ongoing” and that “we will do everything possible to ensure that the school year will open on time.”

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman has criticized Lapid and Gantz’s involved push to resolve the education crisis, saying earlier this week that it should be handled only by treasury officials and that politicians who want to impose political decisions on the crisis would have to “fire” him.

“In general, it’s preferred if the person who manages this type of negotiation has experience and strong nerves, and whoever wants to impose political decisions on the professional level will have to first fire the finance minister,” Liberman reportedly said in a finance ministry meeting on Tuesday.

Lapid said on Thursday that he has no plans to let Liberman go, but that the prime minister is an appropriate mediator.

“The tension is understandable, there’s no need to fire the finance minister,” he said, but added that his role as prime minister is “to try to get all the sides in one room and ensure there will be a result.”

The school year is currently slated to open on September 1.

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