Netanyahu warns of ‘dangerous, left-wing’ Lapid-Bennett government

As mandate to form a coalition is given to his rival, prime minister piles pressure on Yamina party to ‘return to the right’ and not break its election campaign promises

Screen capture from video of Prime Minister Benjmain Netanyhau, May 5, 2021. (Kippa)
Screen capture from video of Prime Minister Benjmain Netanyhau, May 5, 2021. (Kippa)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday warned that Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who on Wednesday received the presidential mandate to attempt to form a government, would form a “dangerous left-wing” coalition.

Netanyahu also heaped pressure on the right-wing Yamina party and its leader MK Naftali Bennett to not join any emerging coalition, and instead work with him to build a right-wing government.

His remarks came after President Reuven Rivlin formally tasked Lapid with forming a government in the wake of Netanyahu’s failure to cobble together a coalition in the 28 days since he was given the same mission. Netanyahu’s allotted time ran out at midnight Tuesday.

Lapid has expressed willingness to let the right-wing Bennett be prime minister first in a prospective government of left-wing, centrist and right-wing parties, as part of a rotation agreement.

Netanyahu, too, earlier this week had said he was willing to step aside and let Bennett be prime minister for a year as he entreated Bennett to join a right-wing coalition with him.

Right-wing Yamina did not join a Netanyahu-led bloc of right and religious parties in the Knesset, and though they negotiated, Bennett also held talks with Lapid, who leads the so-called change bloc of parties seeking to remove the Likud leader from power.

Netanyahu on Wednesday accused Bennett, and Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked, of breaking their campaign promises to not join a coalition that would see Yesh Atid chief Lapid installed as prime minister.

“Come back to the right,” Netanyahu said directly addressing Bennett, Shaked and their fellow Yamina MKs, while slamming Bennett for striving to become premier himself.

“The truth is simple. This will be a dangerous left-wing government,” Netanyahu said.

“Don’t break all your commitments just for the ambition of Bennett to be prime minister for two years,” Netanyahu said.

Yamina chief Naftali Bennett speaks during a press conference at the Knesset on May 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bennett, Netanyahu said, is “laundering words and attempting to mislead the public” with his call for a unity government, made earlier in the day, before Rivlin had tapped Lapid.

“It will not be a unity government, it will be a dangerous left-wing government,” Netanyahu said, listing the leaders of parties in Lapid’s bloc who have previously taken up stances strongly opposed by the right-wing camp.

“Bennett and Shaked are now breaking all of their commitments, one after the other,” Netanyahu charged, recalling Bennett’s signing of a document, live on air the day before the last elections in March, in which he pledged to not allow “Yair Lapid to be prime minister, including in a rotation (agreement.)”

Netanyahu went on to cite a recent poll that found most Yamina voters are against the party joining a Lapid coalition. He claimed that if Yamina commits to his own bloc, which would then have 59 seats, other right-wing MKs in parties currently aligned with Lapid would switch sides, pushing the Netanyahu camp over the 61 seats needed for a majority in the Knesset.

“When it comes down to choosing between a right government or elections” those right-wing MKs would prefer to see a government established rather than the political deadlock forcing another vote in what would be the fifth election in two and a half years, opined Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, noting that he had offered Bennett a rotation deal with the Yamina leader serving as prime minister for the first year, claimed that during all their negotiations Bennett had only one request: “He just wanted to be prime minister.”

“Now it transpires that he was doing it [negotiating] to waste time and get two years as prime minister with Yair Lapid,” Netanyahu said.

Cracks were already beginning to show in Yamina, as its lawmaker MK Amichai Chikli announced earlier in the day his objection to the emerging Bennett-Lapid government.

Yamina MK Amichai Chikli at the Knesset swearing-in ceremony on April 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitousi/Flash90)

Lapid’s selection by Rivlin was immediately welcomed by some of the party leaders in his bloc.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman congratulated Rivlin on “the speed of taking the right decision” in giving the mandate to Lapid.

“The work is now on us, leaders of the parties in the change bloc,” Liberman wrote, while predicting that a coalition agreement would soon be reached. “As someone who knows everyone’s position, it is possible to assure the citizens and present a functioning government already next week.”

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli — one of those berated by Netanyahu for her leftist views — tweeted that she is optimistic that “we can within a few days replace Netanyahu. To end the too-long and too-corrupt rule and set off on a new path.”

Lapid, taking up the mantle, said in a statement: “After two years of political paralysis, Israeli society is hurting. A unity government isn’t a compromise or a last resort — it’s a goal, it’s what we need.”

President Reuven Rivlin (R) meets Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, May 5, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

As part of his new powers, Lapid immediately installed his party’s Karine Elharrar as the chair of the Knesset Arrangements Committee.

The Arrangements Committee, the first Knesset committee to be formed after an election, controls the legislative agenda in the new parliament until a new government is formed.

With the ongoing political deadlock complicating the formation of a coalition, the influence of the Arrangements Committee has recently been amplified.

Lapid, like Netanyahu before him, now has 28 days to try and form a government, though the new prime minister-designate faces an uphill battle to complete the task.

Even with Yamina, he doesn’t have the required number of seats without relying on cooperation from either of the two Arab parties in the Knesset. However, the predominantly Arab Joint List is unlikely to offer any help, and though the Ra’am party has negotiated with both blocs to provide outside support for a coalition in return for improvements to the Arab Israeli community, Bennett, in the televised document he signed, had also vowed to not work with the party.

In addition, Lapid’s bloc is comprised of left, center, and right parties that have significantly different views on key issues, further complicating his task.

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