Netanyahu, Lapid and Gantz discuss forming emergency government as country faces war

Opposition leader Lapid indicates PM will need to boot far right from coalition: ‘I’m willing to put aside our differences and form an emergency, narrow, professional government’

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid in a statement to the media, October 7, 2023. (Video screenshot)
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid in a statement to the media, October 7, 2023. (Video screenshot)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid and National Unity party leader Benny Gantz on Saturday discussed forming an emergency government following Hamas’s devastating surprise attack against Israel on Saturday.

Netanyahu confirmed the matter was raised during a meeting with Gantz and Yesh Atid party chairman Lapid earlier on Saturday.

His Likud party said that such a government would be the same format as the Levi Eshkol government that then-opposition leader Menachem Begin joined before the Six-Day War in 1967.

The proposal comes after at least 250 Israelis were killed, over 1,500 were injured, and numerous citizens were taken hostage during Hamas’s unprecedented assault on Israel.

A statement issued by National Unity, shortly before the Likud publicized the matter, noted that Gantz was considering entering such a government for the duration of the war, but insisted that the government would “deal with security challenges alone” and in a manner which would allow “substantive partnership and influence over decision-making in relevant forums” for Gantz’s party.

The National Unity party leader told Netanyahu that regardless of any decision over an emergency government, the current government would receive his full backing “for any responsible and determined security action.”

Earlier on Saturday evening, Lapid announced he would be willing to join “a reduced, professional, emergency government” but that it would be impossible to manage a war with “the extreme and dysfunctional composition of the current cabinet,” essentially calling on the prime minister to remove the far-right Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit parties from the government in order to bring Yesh Atid into the coalition.

“A short while ago, I met with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I told him that in this emergency situation, I’m willing to put aside our differences and form an emergency, narrow, professional government with him to manage the difficult and complex operation ahead of us,” Lapid said in a Saturday evening statement to the media.

“The State of Israel is at war. It won’t be easy and it won’t be short. It has strategic consequences that we haven’t seen for many years. There is a serious risk that it will become a multi-front war,” Lapid said.

But Lapid indicated Netanyahu would need to eject his far-right coalition allies.

Netanyahu, he said, “knows that with the current extreme and dysfunctional security cabinet, he can’t manage a war. Israel needs to be led by a professional, experienced, and responsible government. I have no doubt that former Defense Minister [Benny] Gantz would also join a government like this.”

“Forming an emergency professional government will make clear to our enemies that the vast majority of Israeli citizens stand behind the IDF and security forces. It will make clear to the world, in the international community, that the people of Israel stand united against this threat,” said Lapid.

Chief among Lapid’s concerns are far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also holds a role as a second, independent minister in the Defense Ministry. Both have made incendiary comments and policy proposals against Palestinians. Lapid is particularly concerned with their ability to manage a war, especially as violence may spill over into the West Bank and northern border.

Left, Benny Gantz, center, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, Yair Lapid. (Hadas Parush, Noam Revkin Fenton, Hadas Parush/ Flash90)

“The State of Israel suffered a grave blow today. We are all hurting, we are all angry. However, wars and countries aren’t managed with pain and anger but with calm and a strategic understanding of the situation. We need to put politics aside for the sake of an emergency government that will manage this situation with determination and won’t deal with anything else until we achieve victory over our enemies.”

Lapid made his offer in person to the prime minister, after receiving a security update, according to a source close to the opposition leader. The source said that “the offer is real, this isn’t a political thing. The offer is there.”

The Likud issued its statement approximately two hours after Lapid announced his willingness to join an emergency government. A source close to Lapid declined to comment if Gantz, leader of the National Unity party, was consulted before or after the unity government offer was made.

Lapid and his center-left Yesh Atid party have been harsh critics of Netanyahu and the prime minister’s right-wing, far-right, and religious coalition, and have called to end that government in light of its moves to weaken judicial checks on political power, as well as having put ultranationalist extremists in sensitive security roles.

Far-right leaders Itamar Ben Gvir (L) and Bezalel Smotrich at the Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hamas and its sponsor Iran have called Israel weak in recent months, in light of Israel’s domestic turmoil and concerns about IDF readiness caused by fights over the judicial overhaul.

Shortly thereafter, Netanyahu said that Israel is “at war” and the IDF spokesperson confirmed that “this is not an operation, this is war.”

Both Lapid and Gantz have previously lambasted Netanyahu for forming a government with “extremists” and previously eschewed the idea of a unity government that included them. Amid furtive negotiations to ameliorate Israel’s judicial crisis, a struggle over power division that has captured the collective national consciousness for the past 10 months, Gantz in September reiterated that he would not join a Netanyahu government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement on October 7, 2023, in Tel Aviv. (Screengrab)

Shortly after Hamas launched its assault on Saturday morning, catching the country unaware during the Sabbath and the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, Lapid and Gantz issued a statement alongside other opposition party heads in support of Israel’s security forces.

“At times like these, there is no opposition or coalition in Israel. We will give full backing to the security forces for a harsh response against terrorism and its proxies,” Lapid said then.

Both Lapid and Gantz, as well as fellow opposition party head Avigdor Liberman, previously served in governments with Netanyahu. The three one-time political allies have since become rivals to the prime minister, whom they have called untrustworthy and corrupt.

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