Lapid slams door on possible coalition with post-indictment Netanyahu

Statement from Yesh Atid leader comes after comments by a party lawmaker were interpreted as a refusal to rule out the scenario

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations event in Jerusalem on February 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations event in Jerusalem on February 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid on Sunday morning said his party wouldn’t under any condition sit in a government headed by someone who has been indicted on criminal charges, addressing claims voiced by political rivals that a party member refused to rule out joining a future coalition with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, even if the prime minister is brought to trial.

The centrist party, which swept into politics on a campaign of anti-corruption, came under fire on Saturday from rival opposition party Zionist Union after Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah refrained from explicitly saying the party wouldn’t join such a government.

Instead he said it was incorrect to “boycott” someone, but added that “a prime minister under indictment cannot continue to serve in the position.”

On Sunday morning, Lapid made clear that his party had no intention of backing Netanyahu.

“To anyone who didn’t understand and mainly to those who insisted on not understanding: Yesh Atid will not be part of any government in which the prime minister faces an indictment,” he wrote on Twitter. “No ifs or buts.”

Zionist Union had slammed Yesh Atid Saturday night, claiming Shelah’s statements meant that the party “will not hesitate” to sit in a Netanyahu government even if charges are pressed against him.

The battle of words within the Israeli opposition began when Shelah was pressed for an answer on the matter at a cultural event in the central town of Ness Ziona.

Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah speaks during a press conference regarding the so called “Recruitment Law” in Tel Aviv on September 12, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“I’m not going to get into speculations,” Shelah said. “I do not think it’s correct to boycott someone. The first thing you are asked about in Israeli politics is who are you boycotting.”

“The answer is: no one. We want a government headed by Yair Lapid with the main parties in Israel,” he said.

Asked again if he was suggesting that sitting with a post-indictment Netanyahu-led Likud would still be an option, Shelah again refused to give a straight answer, only asserting that “a prime minister under indictment cannot continue to serve in the position.”

Afterward, Zionist Union said in a statement that “if anyone had any doubt, [Yesh Atid chairman] Yair Lapid and his colleagues will not hesitate to sit with Netanyahu, even if indictments are filed against him.”

“They are not partner to anything. Those who pretend to lead the fight against corruption cannot afford double standards on the subject. We pledge to replace the corrupt, not to embrace them with open arms,” it said.

The squabble came as the Zionist Union, led by Avi Gabbay, has plummeted in the polls to the apparent benefit of Yesh Atid.

Last week, a Channel 10 survey found that Yesh Atid would win 24 seats (compared to its current 11) if fresh elections were held, while the Zionist Union would plunge to 12 seats (24).

However, both opposition parties trailed Netanyahu’s Likud, which would receive 29 seats, one less than it currently has in the Knesset.

Speaking at a Saturday event for party activists in Beersheba, Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir called for early elections to be held so that her faction could prove that “citizens detest corruption and know that this government is abandoning them for personal and political interests.”

“It is clear to everyone that Netanyahu’s corrupt government has stopped worrying about Israeli citizens,” she added.

Chairwoman of the Knesset Transparency Committee Stav Shaffir in the Knesset on July 22, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Last month, police recommended Netanyahu be indicted in a pair of corruption investigations, known as Cases 1000 and 2000.

He is also a suspect in the Case 4000 investigation involving suspicions that telecom giant Bezeq’s controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch ordered the Walla news site, which he owns, to grant positive coverage to the Netanyahus in exchange for the prime minister’s advancement of regulations benefiting him financially.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, amounting to some NIS 1 million ($282,000) worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian resort owner James Packer, in return for certain benefits.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (c) and Nir Hefetz (l) arrive at the weekly cabinet meeting held in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 13, 2009. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Last week, a former Netanyahu family top media adviser, Nir Hefetz, became the third former close aide to the prime minister to agree to cooperate with police.

He has reportedly promised to provide police with incriminating text messages and recordings of Netanyahu and his wife in several criminal cases, including Case 4000 and Case 1000.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in any of the cases.

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