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Lapid, Bennett, Sa'ar and Liberman to meet Tuesday afternoon

Rivlin’s office rebuts Likud, says Bennett can be PM 1st with Lapid as alternate

Yesh Atid leader expected to declare on Tuesday he has coalition to oust Netanyahu; Meretz MK says her baby was threatened; Haredi party: Lapid gov’t in ‘defiance of Heaven’

(R) Naftali Bennett and (L) Yair Lapid (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
(R) Naftali Bennett and (L) Yair Lapid (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As Yesh Atid party leader MK Yair Lapid was reportedly set to formally announce Tuesday that he had managed to put together a coalition after marathon overnight talks, the legal adviser to the president pushed back against a claim by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party that the nascent government could not have Yamina’s Naftali Bennett serve as its first premier.

The legal adviser to the office of President Reuven Rivlin, Udit Corinaldi-Sirkis, said in a statement that there was no legal reason why the MK entrusted with forming the coalition should not serve as alternate prime minister during the first part of the potential government’s term.

Negotiations that began Monday and went on till late into the night reportedly saw further progress between Yesh Atid and Yamina, as well as with Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, which also joined in some of the talks at the Kfar Maccabiah youth village near Ramat Gan. Lapid was reportedly preparing to tell Rivlin later Tuesday that he has mustered a majority, which he would then seek to have approved in a Knesset vote next week.

However, as Lapid inched closer to achieving a coalition that would oust Netanyahu after over 12 consecutive years in office, the premier’s Likud party claimed there were legal obstacles to the reported coalition plan of rotating the premiership between Lapid and Bennett, with the latter serving as first head of government.

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

In a letter to the legal adviser to the president and to the legal adviser to the Knesset, Likud claimed that under the country’s Basic Laws, Lapid must serve first in a rotation deal with Bennett, as the Yesh Atid leader was the one who was given the mandate to form a government.

“Only Yesh Atid chair Yair Lapid can serve first as prime minister, and he has no authority to transfer the role to Yamina chair Naftali Bennett, who was not tasked with the role of forming a government,” the party wrote.

Likud went on to say that Lapid cannot just “make do with a laconic statement” to Rivlin that he has a coalition, but must detail the specifics of its composition and member parties.

The party said that if Lapid intends to establish a government that rotates the premiership, then he must also specify who will be the alternate prime minister.

The party noted the same conditions were placed on Netanyahu when he was tasked with forming a government.

Benjamin Netanyahu attends a ceremony for the victims of the 1948 Altalena incident, at Nachalat Yitzhak cemetery in Tel Aviv on May 26, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Netanyahu was the first to be given the mandate to build a coalition after the March 23 elections, but when he failed, the job was passed to Lapid.

Likud claims that if any of the conditions are not fulfilled by the time Lapid’s mandate expires Wednesday night at midnight, the task of choosing a prime minister must be passed to the Knesset.

Despite Likud’s insistence that only the lawmaker mandated to form a government can serve first as prime minister, Netanyahu himself had at the beginning of the week tried to woo the New Hope party away from Lapid by offering that should it join Likud in a coalition, then Sa’ar would serve first in as the premier. The offer included Bennett, who was told he would also get time in the prime minister’s seat.

Left to right: Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid (Miriam Alster/Flash90); Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett; and New Hope party head Gideon Sa’ar (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Backlash

Since Bennett announced at the beginning of the week that he planned to join Lapid in a coalition, the Yamina party has faced a backlash from right-wing activists who accuse it of heading into a leftist government.

Further opposition to the deal came on Monday night from the spiritual leadership of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, a long-time ally of Netanyahu.

In a public letter, the party’s Council of Torah Sages wrote that should the Bennett-Lapid government be formed, it would be “an act that is defiance of Heaven and is a bitter and difficult sin.”

“The perplexity and pain of blasphemy will be increased, as those who are at the central base for the formation of such a government are members of the Yamina faction who declare themselves Jews who believe in God and are observant,” the statement added, in a reference to the religious Zionist ideology of many of Yamina’s members and supporters.

MK Tamar Zandberg speaks during a press conference of the Meretz party ahead of the upcoming elections, in Tel Aviv, January 4, 2021 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Meanwhile, Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg said Tuesday that she was staying home with her baby after the child was specifically mentioned in a threat.

“I’m at home because my baby’s name came up in messages that said to bring security guards because something is going to happen to her,” Zandberg told the Kan public broadcaster.

Agreements and obstacles

In a sign of the emerging deal, New Hope and Yamina agreed to give up on demands to share the position of Knesset speaker with Yesh Atid during the emerging government’s term, according to Hebrew media reports on Tuesday.

It was also reported that Lapid, Bennett and Sa’ar were set to meet with Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman later on Tuesday.

However, one of the final obstacles remaining for Lapid’s coalition is reportedly the insistence by Yamina No. 2 MK Ayelet Shaked that she sit on the panel that selects judges and also be made minister for the development of the Negev and Galilee. Shaked wants those roles in addition to that of interior minister, which has already been agreed upon. However, her demands clash with agreements previously made by Lapid with two other potential coalition partners, the Yisrael Beytenu and Labor parties.

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked holds a press conference at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on May 26, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The spot on the Judicial Appointments Committee had already been slated for Labor chief Merav Michaeli, though reports have indicated the matter was solvable. Michaeli on Monday said during a Labor faction meeting that the center-left party “remains completely committed to making every effort so this will happen,” referring to the establishment of a government.

If Yamina and the “change bloc” of anti-Netanyahu parties resolve their points of contention, they will also need the support of the Islamist Ra’am and/or part of the Joint List of three majority-Arab parties.

Under the emerging rotation deal between Yamina and Yesh Atid, Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years before handing the reins to Lapid. Joining the coalition will be a mix of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties that refuse to join a government led by Netanyahu, who is on trial in three criminal cases.

Should a coalition not be announced by midnight Wednesday, when Lapid’s mandate expires, the Knesset would have 21 days to agree to back any lawmaker to lead a new government. If that also fails, Israel would head to its fifth election in two and a half years.

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