Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid met for the first time in two weeks on Thursday, in an attempt to ease the tension that has escalated between the leaders of the Knesset’s two largest parties.
Netanyahu and Lapid met for two-and-a-half hours at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on January 24, two days after Lapid surprised many by winning 19 seats in the election. That meeting was described by both sides as very positive, but their relationship has gone downhill since.
Likud Beytenu officials have called Yesh Atid’s opening demands for joining the coalition exaggerated and arrogant.
Netanyahu was angered by a reported understanding between Lapid and Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett that their parties would both either join the government or remain in the opposition.
Tension between the two escalated after a statement by the Yesh Atid leader declared that he intended to run for prime minister in the next election and expected to win.
Likud officials said that statement would make it much harder for Netanyahu to trust Lapid.
Following a handshake between Netanyahu and Lapid at the Knesset Tuesday, the two men agreed to meet again one-on-one, in an effort to put coalition talks back on track.
Sources close to Netanyahu said the prime minister wants to see Yesh Atid in his coalition together with haredi parties, as well as Bayit Yehudi, Kadima and The Tzipi Livni Party. The sources said Lapid and the haredi parties would have to compromise to bring that about.
Lapid reached out to the haredi parties on Wednesday when he called for Talmudic studies to be integrated into the core curriculum of the secular Israeli school system. The statement, which Lapid wrote on Facebook, was seen as a bid to challenge accusations that he was anti-religious.
“The haredi parties are energetically spreading rumors that I am trying to harm the Torah world,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “This is nonsense.
King David was a combat soldier, the Rambam [Maimonides] studied secular courses, and Nahmanides and Rashi held jobs.”
The Bayit Yehudi faction, which wants to create a bridge between Yesh Atid and the haredim, held a lengthy meeting at the Knesset on Wednesday on how to equalize the burden of service. But the 12 Bayit Yehudi MKs did not reach a conclusion in the meeting.
Netanyahu, who has not met with Bennett since the election, will hold a symbolic meeting Thursday with Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On.
Gal-On said her party would not enter the coalition but that she hoped Netanyahu would form a government that could take real steps to advance the peace process.