Netanyahu and Lapid.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Elections are expected to be initiated soon as a long-awaited meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid ended with sharp disagreement on key issues late Monday night.
Netanyahu demanded that Lapid freeze his flagship housing reform plan and back the prime minister’s controversial “Jewish state” bill. He asked that Lapid and Yesh Atid MKs stop criticizing him, especially on diplomatic issues.
“If the unprecedented behavior of the ministers continues, we will have no choice but to request the support of the voters again,” Netanyahu said. “It is not the choice I want, but it is worse to have a government with ministers who harm it against the interest of the public.”
Lapid rejected Netanyahu’s demands, especially freezing the housing reform that Yesh Atid had promised its voters.
Lapid released a statement more than half an hour after the meeting ended saying that Netanyahu was leading the country to unnecessary elections. He accused him of making political deal with the haredim (ultra-Orthodox).
"The prime minister decided once again to behave irresponsibly for the nation and put the needs of the public last on his priorities," Lapid said. "The citizens of Israel understand today that they are led by a prime minister who does not keep his promises, who prefers his own political survival over the good of the public."
Shas leader Arye Deri called for all the factions to meet and decide together on a date for elections.
Earlier Monday, Netanyahu sharply criticized Lapid at the Likud’s faction meeting in the Knesset. He accused him of harming Israel’s international image by criticizing his government on key issues, such as building in Jerusalem.
“I have not enjoyed the fulfillment of even the most fundamental obligation – the loyalty and responsibility of ministers to the government in which they serve,” he said.
“I demand that these ministers stop their undermining, stop their attacks. I demand that they stand behind the correct security and socioeconomic policies for leading the country. If they do, we can continue to work together. If they refuse, we will reach conclusions and go to the voters.”
An hour earlier, Lapid pleaded with Netanyahu in Yesh Atid’s faction meeting not to initiate an election. He warned that elections would prevent the passage of a housing reform that would aid young families and a budget that would help needy Israelis, such as Holocaust survivors and children.
“The prime minister himself supported both of them,” he said. “I sat next to him and he voted for them both and guaranteed to me to work to ensure they both pass. I can’t imagine that political considerations changed his mind.”
Adopting a statement made in recent weeks by Labor, Lapid said “Everything is stuck. It can’t continue like this.” He said he would ask Netanyahu to change his behavior.
“We can still fix this, to decide to work together for the benefit of the public, which expects us to work responsibly,” Lapid said. “We weren’t elected to serve pressure groups or narrow political interests. My only responsibility is to the Israeli public. All we want is to work – with the whole government – for the citizens of the State of Israel.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog lashed out at Lapid at Labor’s faction meeting, saying that he had realized two years too late that with Netanyahu the country was stuck.
Labor, Meretz, and other opposition factions joined together Monday to submit a bill to disperse the Knesset.
Labor faction chairman Eitan Cabel said he would monitor political developments before deciding whether to bring the bill to a vote on Wednesday.
Herzog dared Netanyahu to initiate an election. He said the public has lost faith in the prime minister’s government and in him.
“Every day with you, the public suffers more,” he said, addressing Netanyahu. “Just this one time, instead of threatening – do something. You and your government have lost the trust of the nation.”
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni also sounded like she had one foot outside the government Monday. In her Hatnua faction meeting, she expressed frustration with Netanyahu moving rightward.
“The government of Israel is at a crossroads,” she said. “It must either end the extremism and fight not only terrorism, but also racism, end belligerent talk, and advance what we can agree on when it comes to diplomatic issues, or go to elections and let voters choose between two different outlooks.”
Livni said both options were acceptable to her.
“What is not proper is not going to elections while continuing to advance racist legislation and letting extremists – some of whom are in the coalition – continue to have their way,” she said.