Lapid urges ‘leap of faith’ to build ‘national consensus government’

A day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was formally tasked with assembling a government, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid urged party leaders from across the political spectrum to take a “leap of faith” and agree to form a “national consensus government” instead of one headed by Netanyahu.

Writing on Facebook, Lapid admitted that “the first stage did not work in our favor. Netanyahu received the mandate [to form a government] first.”

In consultations Monday with President Reuven Rivlin, Netanyahu received the endorsement from representatives of 52 lawmakers, the most of any candidate but short of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Yamina, with seven seats, recommended its leader Bennett as prime minister, the only party to do so. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid got 45 endorsements. New Hope, Ra’am and the Joint List, with 16 seats between them, did not recommend any candidate for prime minister.

But despite the setback, Lapid said “it does not mean we stop working. The goal was and remains the same: to form a national consensus government.”

Lapid confirmed Monday that he offered to let Yamina’s Bennett serve first as prime minister in a government that would see the two rotate the premiership, but the sides were so far unable to reach an agreement.

In his Wednesday post, he elaborated on which parties he hoped would join such a government, rejecting the notion that it would be either right- or left-wing.

“In the government we are trying to establish, there will be three distinct right-wing parties (Yamina, New Hope and Yisrael Beytenu), two centrist parties (Yesh Atid and Blue and White) and two left-wing Zionist parties (Labor and Meretz),” Lapid wrote.

Party leaders pose for a group picture after the swearing-in ceremony of the 24th Knesset, April 6, 2021. Seated from left are Supreme Court president Esther Hayut, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Those parties hold 58 Knesset seats and would therefore only be able to form a minority government, which would be dependent on at least three MKs from other parties, perhaps the Arab factions, not voting to bring it down.

Noting the ideological differences between the parties, Lapid said “this means that no one will get everything they want,” but he stressed that “this will be the government of the concerned Israelis. Those who think that at the moment it is much more important to take care of livelihood and peace at home in Israeli society.”

“Suspicion will lead us nowhere. We must make a ‘leap of faith.’ Build a government based on the fact that we believe that other people, who think differently, also want to do good here,” he said.

In a message to his fellow party leaders, Lapid concluded, “The citizens of Israel must see in front of them leaders who know how to put disputes aside and work for a common goal.”

According to Channel 13 news, Lapid’s and Bennett’s negotiating teams met late into the night ahead of Monday’s meetings with Rivlin, but were unable to finalize an agreement.

The main sticking point was Bennett’s demand to be given double votes in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and security cabinet so that he could override Lapid in case their respective blocs come to a stalemate on an issue, the network said.

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett during a faction meeting at the Knesset on April 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The report said, however, that the two reached numerous agreements, including on who would fill key ministries, with the Treasury going to Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman and the defense and justice portfolios going to the Blue and White and New Hope parties, respectively, with Bennett demanding key ministries be given to right-wing parties.

Speaking Wednesday morning on Army Radio, Labor leader Merav Michaeli said that negotiations toward forming such a government must continue.

“We have 61 seats that voted against Netanyahu and we need to form a government soon. We need to work on that now, even in the days when Netanyahu received the mandate,” she said.

After being tasked with assembling the government, Netanyahu set out Tuesday to secure the elusive ruling majority, scheduling a meeting with Bennett and reportedly offering senior positions to potential “defectors” from parties that oppose him.

After lawmakers in the 24th Knesset were sworn in, Netanyahu urged political parties to end their “personal boycotts” and join his government, vowing to make “every effort” to end the “cycle of elections” and establish a “strong government for all of Israel’s citizens.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend the swearing-in ceremony of Israel’s Knesset (parliament) in Jerusalem, on April 6, 2021 (Alex Kolomoisky / POOL / AFP)

“This won’t be a government of paralysis, but rather a government of action,” he said at a Likud faction meeting. “To do this, the government must be united, both in policy and action. And to create it, we must first end the personal boycotts.”

He said the establishment of a “strong and homogenous” coalition “won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible.”

Bennett earlier on Tuesday said he was open to talks with Likud and called for a right-wing government, but didn’t commit to backing Netanyahu. Even with Yamina’s support, Netanyahu’s bloc would still be two seats short of a majority, unless the Islamist Ra’am party abstains when voting to approve the government, a scenario that the premier’s allies in the far-right Religious Zionism party oppose.

Newly appointed housing minister and former health minister Yaakov Litzman, at his installation ceremony at the Housing Ministry in Jerusalem on May 18, 2020. (Olivier FitoussiFlash90)

But speaking Wednesday morning, United Torah Judaism No. 2. Yaakov Litzman hinted at the possibility that Religious Zionism could officially stay out of government while supporting it from the outside, in order not to be part of a coalition dependent on Israeli Arab parties.

“I talked to Religious Zionism chair Bezalel] Smotrich yesterday and I realized there are formulas for the solution,” Litzman said.

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