Lapid says he'd debate Netanyahu, whose office weighs idea

Lapid says ‘no problem’ sitting with Likud, but not under Netanyahu’s leadership

At conference, PM labels settlers who attacked troops ’emissaries of Ben Gvir,’ defends not bringing maritime deal to Knesset; Ben Gvir says he’s offended by Netanyahu’s snubs

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left) with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at a Knesset session in memory of Israel's first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, on November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left) with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at a Knesset session in memory of Israel's first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, on November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid reiterated on Thursday that he will never sit in the same government as former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, unless the latter is acquitted in his ongoing corruption trial.

Lapid clarified that he had “no problem” sitting in a government with Netanyahu’s Likud party, provided it was under different leadership.

Speaking at a conference organized by Channel 12, Lapid said he would “gladly” take part in a televised pre-election debate with Netanyahu, but added that the latter has been refusing to participate in such debates for 15 years.

Netanyahu’s office was quoted saying it would weigh the idea.

Lapid dodged questions about who he aims to include in the next government — specifically whether he will rely on the support of the predominantly Arab Hadash-Ta’al party — and acknowledged it will be “very hard” to form a coalition. “But look who was the last one to form a government in tough circumstances,” he added.

In response to criticism by smaller left-wing parties that Lapid is campaigning at their expense and potentially causing them to fall below the electoral threshold, Lapid said that “both Labor and Meretz are far [above] the threshold. I’m not worried. Had I been worried — I would be careful.”

Following Wednesday’s reported settler attack on IDF forces in the Palestinian town of Harawa, Lapid described the attackers as “emissaries of Ben Gvir,” referring to far-right politician Itamar Ben Gvir, whose Religious Zionism party is expected to win 13-14 seats in the November 1 election.

Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir speaks at a Channel 12 conference in Rishon LeZion, October 20, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Taking the stage himself, Ben Gvir told the conference that he was “offended” by Netanyahu’s refusal to stand alongside him at a Simchat Torah event in Kfar Chabad earlier in the week.

Many interpreted the snub as a media-conscious decision by Netanyahu not to be captured in the same frame as Ben Gvir — a character seen by many as a Jewish supremacist and racist.

During the interview, Channel 12 host Mohammad Magadli reminded Ben Gvir that Netanyahu had been photographed with Palestinian national leaders Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, and yet still decided that a photo-op with Ben Gvir was one step too far.

Ben Gvir told Magadli: “I was really offended. After I’ve been tirelessly working for him to form a government, I would expect to be allowed to speak and then leave. But I don’t need a selfie with Netanyahu. I’m not an admirer. I want to form a right-wing government with him.”

The prime minister also defended the decision not to take the Lebanon maritime deal to the Knesset for approval, arguing “it’s the responsibility and authority of the government, that’s who makes international agreements. Not long ago we made an agreement with Cyprus, very similar, without Knesset approval,” adding “the responsibility is on us.”

Lapid also cited changes to Israel’s peace agreement with Egypt, which did not require the Knesset’s approval.

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