Yesh Atid MK says he’s open to party joining unity government with Netanyahu

Party rejects idea as personal view of Elazar Stern, who is evasive as to whether Yesh Atid chief, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, is also open to it

Elazar Stern of the Yesh Atid party attends a plenum session in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Elazar Stern of the Yesh Atid party attends a plenum session in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern said Monday that he would be willing to discuss his party joining Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form an alternative government, bucking the declared line of his own party’s leader.

Stern told Army Radio that he has never ruled out serving in a unity government with Netanyahu’s Likud party, and that “I would be very happy if such an offer was on the table.”

Opposition leaders have repeatedly stated that they will not serve in a coalition headed by Netanyahu due to his ongoing corruption trial. Yesh Atid swiftly put out a response to Stern’s remarks, saying, “That is not our message, that is his personal opinion. Even if a discussion is held, Yesh Atid will not enter a government with Netanyahu.”

Netanyahu’s coalition of right, far-right, and religious parties has made a drastic overhaul of the judiciary a central plank of its policy. The legislation, one piece of which has already been passed into law, has met with months of mass protests. The political turmoil has divided Israeli society and seeped into the military, with some reservists saying they won’t volunteer for service unless the plan is stopped.

During his radio interview, Stern was challenged by the statement that Netanyahu had been forced to build a government with extremists because a blanket boycott by centrist opposition parties left him with no other potential partners to form a majority.

“You have never heard me say that I am against a unity government,” Stern said. “But I haven’t heard the prime minister suggest that.”

Asked what would happen if Netanyahu proposed booting out the far-right Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit parties and moving overhaul spearhead Justice Minister Yariv Levin to another position, Stern said that if an offer were made, it should be discussed by Yesh Atid.

Yair Lapid (L), Benny Gantz (C) and Benjamin Netanyahu (R) (Flash90)

However, Stern was evasive as to whether Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid or others in his party share his opinion.

“If you interview Yair Lapid he will tell you everything,” was all he would say.

On Sunday, Lapid reportedly reiterated that he would not join a government led by Netanyahu.

“I’m not thinking about it, this would not be a unity government, it would just be another Netanyahu government,” Lapid said, according to the Maariv daily.

“I would be very happy if there were a true unity government here, but not with Netanyahu because it wouldn’t work,” he was quoted as saying.

Both Lapid and National Unity leader Benny Gantz, who lead the two largest opposition parties, recently ruled out joining Netanyahu in a government. They reiterated their positions amid reports of a possible normalization deal with Saudi Arabia. Such a development would require concessions to the Palestinians that far-right elements in the coalition would likely not agree to. Lapid and Gantz said they would support a normalization deal from outside the government, but not join the coalition.

“We won’t enter a Netanyahu government. If there’s a deal with Saudi Arabia that represents Israel’s security interests, we’ll back it from the outside,” a source close to Lapid was quoted as saying.

The government and its supporters say the judicial overhaul is needed to rein in what they see as an overreaching court system. Opponents say it will dangerously dilute the court’s power, eroding Israel’s democratic character.

Negotiations to reach an agreement between the coalition and opposition, held earlier this year, failed to produce a deal. No further talks are scheduled, with each side blaming the intractability of the other.

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