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Still far short of majority, Lapid finalizes coalition deal with Meretz

With just 8 days till expiration of his mandate to form a government, Yesh Atid leader hands left-wing faction the ministries of health, environment and regional cooperation

Yesh Atid party chief Yair Lapid leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on May 24, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Yesh Atid party chief Yair Lapid leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on May 24, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The coalition agreement between the Yesh Atid and Meretz parties is nearly complete, giving prime ministerial hopeful Yair Lapid his second coalition partner after Tuesday’s signing with Yisrael Beytenu.

Lapid has eight days remaining to his mandate from the president to form a government.

He is racing against the clock and against the coalition math to try to cobble together a coalition in time, but admitted on Monday that it may not be possible.

According to Channel 12 news, the agreement with Meretz gives the party three ministries. Party leader Nitzan Horowitz is slated to be health minister, Tamar Zandberg environmental protection minister and Issawi Frej regional cooperation minister.

Meretz party leader Nitzan Horowitz, left, and MK Tamar Zandberg at a faction meeting at the Knesset on May 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some analysts on Tuesday saw the fact that Meretz’s no. 3 Yair Golan was not on the list of proposed cabinet posts as a nod to Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, without whom Lapid will not be able to form a coalition.

Bennett backed out of coalition talks with Lapid two weeks ago as the fighting with Hamas was underway, but is widely believed to still prefer a unity government with the center-left to a fifth election.

While he was still negotiating with Lapid, Bennett reportedly asked that Golan not be appointed to the cabinet, due to controversial statements by the former IDF deputy chief of staff.

If Lapid fails to form a government by June 2, the Knesset will have 21 days to try to nominate any of its members as prime minister and vote a government into power. Failing that, the 24th Knesset will dissolve to snap elections — the fifth in two and a half years.

Meretz and Yesh Atid have coordinated closely on the coalition talks.

Meretz’s MK Frej has drafted a bill expected to be submitted June 2 should Lapid fail to form a coalition that would dissolve the Knesset without waiting for the 21 days. The move is intended to deny Benjamin Netanyahu a second chance to try to cobble together a coalition, after failing the first go last month.

Meretz MK Issawi Frej at a party conference in Tel Aviv, on January 14, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

However, it is not clear it would have a majority in parliament.

Earlier Tuesday Lapid and Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beytenu party, announced they had reached a coalition agreement granting Liberman the post of finance minister.

Yisrael Beytenu would also get the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry and a third, unnamed cabinet post. Crucially, the party was handed the powerful chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee, which wields sweeping powers over the state budget.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman tours a shopping mall in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod ahead of the election, on February 14, 2020. (Flash90)

Reports said Tuesday that Lapid was also very close to finalizing a coalition agreement with Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party.

In a statement during his party’s faction meeting at the Knesset on Monday, Lapid vowed to “leave no stone unturned in order to form a government,” but acknowledged it would be a difficult task given the parliamentary math.

An easily formed coalition of Yesh Atid, Blue and White, Labor, Yisrael Beytenu and Meretz would only have 45 seats.

To reach the majority required to vote in a government, Lapid must include some combination of right-wing parties Yamina and New Hope on the one hand and the Arab-majority Joint List and the Islamist Ra’am party on the other, a difficult task in the best of times and considered near-impossible in the immediate aftermath of the Gaza fighting.

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