Yair Lapid, chairman of the opposition Yesh Atid party, said Saturday that while he was critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ruling Likud party, he would not join a “left-wing bloc” in a bid to oust Netanyahu from power.
“If [the left] wants to make a bloc then they should, but we are not on the left; we are a centrist party and will therefore not form a bloc with them,” Lapid said in an interview with Chanel 2 news.
His comments followed a call by opposition chief Isaac Herzog for the establishment of an alternative to the current government. Herzog called on Lapid and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon of the coalition Kulanu party to “set egos aside and join together into one big political bloc” to replace the current government.
Lapid said that it was during the summer 2014 war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, when he was serving as finance minister, that he resolved to become prime minister and realized he was fit for the job.
“In the cabinet during Operation Protective Edge, when I looked at all of us [ministers] at a very powerful decision-making juncture,” he said. “It becomes easy to differentiate: who is calm, who can make decisions, who understands the full breadth of the situation, and who doesn’t.”
Several months later, in December of that year, Netanyahu fired Lapid and then-justice minister Tzipi Livni, accusing both of plotting a “putsch” against him and dissolving his coalition. After the ensuing elections, in early 2015, Lapid and Yesh Atid opted to head to the opposition.
Lapid on Saturday also blasted Netanyahu over the ongoing police investigations against him, and the fact that he accepted expensive gifts from billionaires. He invoked the so-called “submarine affair,” in which the prime minister’s personal lawyer David Shimron is suspected of attempting to sway multi-billion-shekel deals in favor of the German shipbuilder ThyssenKryupp, which he represented in Israel. The purchase was opposed by parts of the defense establishment, including then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, who on Saturday accused Netanyahu of personal corruption in the case.
“In a civilized country, what we already know would be enough for the government to fall immediately,” Lapid said.
A Channel 2 survey published last month found that Netanyahu’s Likud party would win 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, up two since the last poll taken in April and equal to what he achieved in the 2015 elections. The poll showed Yesh Atid, Likud’s main rival, dropping to 22 seats from the previous survey, when it had 24.
In Saturday’s interview, Lapid said he did not deny that his desire to replace Netanyahu as prime minister was also personally motivated. “He works alone, and you cannot run a country like Israel alone,” he said. “there were periods when there were stronger people in his close circle, but not anymore.”
The Likud party took Lapid to task over the interview in a statement posted to its Facebook page, saying he was disingenuous in attempting to portray himself as centrist and in asserting he would not band together with Herzog to oust Netanyahu.
The statement called Lapid a “man of the left” and said he had tried “once again” during the interview “to mask his leftist views and present himself as someone who, as opposed to the prime minister, is capable of keeping Israel secure.”