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Liberman indicates he will recommend Lapid form next government

Blue and White’s Gantz meets with Yesh Atid chief as he builds support for so-called ‘change bloc’ opposed to Netanyahu

Leader of the Yesh Atid political party, Yair Lapid, and leader of the Yisrael Beytenu party, Avigdor Liberman, lead a joint conference in the Knesset regarding Israel's foreign policy, February 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Leader of the Yesh Atid political party, Yair Lapid, and leader of the Yisrael Beytenu party, Avigdor Liberman, lead a joint conference in the Knesset regarding Israel's foreign policy, February 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman on Sunday indicated he will support Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to form a new government following last week’s election.

Liberman did not explicitly say he will recommend Lapid get first crack at assembling a governing coalition, but pledged to back the leader of the largest party in the “change bloc” of factions opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yesh Atid, with 17 seats, is the largest party in the bloc.

The head of the Blue and White party, Benny Gantz, met with Lapid Sunday evening.

Party leaders meet with President Reuven Rivlin on April 5 to recommend their preferred candidate for prime minister. Rivlin will then announce who will be given the mandate to form the next government, and the chance to become premier, based on whom he assesses has the best chance of doing so.

“We will recommend the head of the largest party in the ‘change bloc,’ who will receive the highest number of seats, as candidate for forming the government,” Liberman said in a statement. “Anyone who tries to prevent the move and puts his ego above the national interest will be responsible for fifth elections.”

“Getting out of the political stalemate requires all parties to find creative solutions outside the box,” he said.

Liberman said his party will file a bill to limit a prime minister to two terms, “a proposal that Netanyahu supported in the past.” He also reiterated his vow to advance legislation to bar a Knesset member under indictment from being tasked with forming a government, which would prevent Netanyahu, who is on trial for graft charges, from doing so.

Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman speaks to Israelis around Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv on March 23, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The statement came after Liberman on Friday met with Lapid for the first time since the elections.

Along with Yisrael Beytenu, the leaders of the Labor and Meretz parties have indicated they will back Lapid. Together, the four parties have 37 seats between them, far short of the 61 needed for a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

Gantz, whose party won eight seats, spoke with Lapid about ways to form a new government during their meeting Sunday, according to a Yesh Atid statement. They were expected to hold further talks in the coming days.

The two were political allies in Blue and White but had a bitter falling out when Gantz decided to join Netanyahu in a unity government last year, citing a need for a functioning government during the pandemic but breaking his central campaign pledge. Lapid went to the opposition.

Gantz and Lapid are not believed to have met since their acrimonious split last year.

Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope won just six seats after a campaign in which he vowed to become the next prime minister. The right-wing lawmaker pledged during the campaign not to sit under Lapid, but the two have spoken since the election and have agreed to cooperate in order to replace Netanyahu.

Lapid could receive an additional six recommendations from the Joint List, whose chairman Ayman Odeh has not ruled out backing the Yesh Atid leader.

If Lapid receives the backing of Blue and White, New Hope and the Joint List, he’ll have 57 recommendations — five more than Netanyahu if the premier receives the support of Shas, with 9 seats, United Torah Judaism, with 7, and Religious Zionism, 6. Netanyahu’s Likud will be the largest party in the incoming Knesset, with 30 seats.

The so-called “change bloc” is holding intensive discussions as it attempts to create a blueprint for an alternative government to one led by Netanyahu, but such efforts were marred by fighting over who should lead the bloc, as well as radically differing ideologies among the bloc that could doom any such effort from the onset. The right-wing New Hope would need to sit with anti-Zionist Arab lawmakers and the dovish Meretz, for example.

According to a report by Channel 12 news Friday night, one proposal on the table was for Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett to lead a “national government of healing” for a limited period of time, possibly a year, during which time the two would rotate the premiership between them.

Then-Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (left) with then-finance Minister Yair Lapid in the Knesset, March 11, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Yamina’s Bennett, whose party won 7 seats, and Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas, with 4, are less likely to recommend either Netanyahu or Lapid for prime minister, but are seen as potential coalition kingmakers with options of cooperating with either bloc.

Lapid met Sunday with Abbas, with the two discussing “the possibility of forming a new government. At the end of the meeting, the two sides agreed to continue talks between them in the coming days,” a Ra’am statement said.

According to the Ynet news site, the Islamist party chief presented a number of demands for potential support, including voting freedom on LGBT matters, a freeze on the controversial Jewish nation-state law and the Kaminitz Law (legislation seen as targeting Arab illegal building), as well as recognition of unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev.

Abbas also said there would also need to be a concrete plan to work to eradicate crime in Arab communities, the report said.

Ra’am later denied reports about demands it had made to Lapid, dismissing them as “rumors.”

The meeting came a day after Ayoub Kara, a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud party, met with Abbas. Kara told Army Radio he received requests from within Likud to visit Abbas, but didn’t specify from who.

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas at the Islamist party’s campaign headquarters in the northern city of Tamra, on March 23, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Ra’am could grant either bloc a majority, but right-wing lawmakers on both sides have ruled out sitting in a coalition with the Islamist faction. Further complicating coalitions, the No. 2 in New Hope, Yifat Shasha-Biton, said the party will not sit with the Arab-majority Joint List.

Netanyahu repeatedly ruled out relying on Ra’am to form a government in the run-up to the March 23 elections, calling the party anti-Zionist. However, some Likud lawmakers have entertained partnering with Ra’am following last week’s elections, which saw the premier and his right-wing religious allies again fall short of a majority.

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