Report: Lapid, Bennett may ink preliminary coalition agreements within a day

Negotiations on forming a government that would replace Netanyahu as prime minister said to be advancing, with a view to swearing-in next week

Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid holds a press conference in Tel Aviv, on May 6, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)
Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid holds a press conference in Tel Aviv, on May 6, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)

The first agreements between rightist, leftist and centrist parties to establish a coalition government under Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Yamina chief Naftali Bennett could be signed within a day, sources familiar with the negotiations told Channel 12 news Monday.

A swearing-in ceremony could be held as soon as next week, after the Shavuot holiday, the report said.

The so-called change bloc of parties aiming to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made significant progress in ironing out the last kinks in the divvying up of ministries between them, according to the report — particularly the leftist Meretz party and the secular hawkish right-wing Yisrael Beytenu.

Meretz, led by MK Nitzan Horowitz, is being offered either the health or the transportation ministry. Horowitz had previously been reported to be demanding the Education Ministry — a portfolio desired by the right-wing New Hope party.

Head of the left wing Meretz party Nitzan Horowitz attends a Channel 12 News conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli was to make an announcement about the talks during her weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, according to the station.

Labor has been demanding either the justice, education, interior or finance ministries, reports have said, though all of those ministries are said to have been earmarked for other parties. The party could be offered the chairmanship of central Knesset committees as a compromise.

Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman is set to become finance minister, although the party is likely to want other influential positions either in ministries or key Knesset committees, according to Hebrew media reports.

New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar will take the Justice Ministry, while the interior or public security portfolios are being offered to Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked.

“The formation of a government is never a simple event. Not everyone will get what they want,” Lapid said Monday at a Yesh Atid faction meeting.

While insisting the gaps between the parties were not large and that it would be possible to swear in a new government within days, the Yesh Atid chief hinted at disagreements over the allocation of ministerial posts.

“Whoever prevents the formation of a government only because he insists on another ministry, the citizens of Israel won’t forgive him,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Haaretz daily reported that Bennett was pushing to ensure right-wing control over the Judicial Selection Committee and for the nomination of conservative judges. A source described as a member of “the center-left bloc” told the newspaper that Bennett’s representatives are demanding that only-right lawmakers sit on the panel to guarantee “complete control” over it.

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on May 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lapid last week received the presidential mandate to try to form a government and has led the negotiations. The sides are believed to have agreed that Bennett will serve as prime minister for the government’s first two years, with Lapid serving for the latter two.

A major breakthrough was said to have come Sunday when MK Mansour Abbas, leader of Ra’am, an Islamist party, agreed to back the emerging Lapid-Bennett coalition. All three party leaders were set to hold further talks on Monday.

The change bloc needs Ra’am, which holds four seats in the Knesset, in order for its coalition to be voted in by parliament. Though such a coalition would still not have a majority in the Knesset, with Ra’am’s help it would have enough to beat the no votes from the bloc of right-wing and religious parties that want Netanyahu to remain in power.

Though Ra’am would be part of the coalition, Abbas would not serve as a minister, Channel 12 reported.

According to previous reports, Abbas would chair a Knesset committee on Arab affairs and his party would lead at least one other top committee enabling him to realistically influence state policy on behalf of the Arab community.

Netanyahu also tried to form a coalition with Ra’am’s support, but ultimately failed because the far-right Religious Zionism party refused to sit in a government backed in any way by a party it said was made up of “terror supporters.”

Following inconclusive March elections, the Knesset has been divided between the Netanyahu-led bloc and so-called change blocs, with neither having a majority and Yamina and Ra’am holding the balance of power.

Netanyahu, who was first tasked by President Reuven Rivlin with forming a government, failed to garner a majority within his allotted 28 days. Last week the president passed the mandate to Lapid.

As the change coalition construction advances, Netanyahu and his Likud party are pressuring Yamina to not join with Lapid in a government that the prime minister has repeatedly warned will be “left-wing.”

If Lapid fails to cobble together a coalition during his 28-day window, which ends June 2, any Knesset member could try to get the endorsement of a majority of lawmakers for prime minister. If that 21-day period fails to yield a coalition, the country would be forced into the unprecedented scenario of a fifth election in two and a half years.

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