Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu..
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to hold a long-awaited meeting with his finance minister, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, late Monday night in an effort to settle their differences and avoid early elections.
Netanyahu and Lapid have not met or spoken in weeks while they have argued through the press over issues like the 2015 state budget, Lapid’s housing reform plan, and Netanyahu’s controversial “Jewish state” bill.
Sources close to Netanyahu said it was the last chance to determine whether there was enough common ground to keep the government together.
If not, Netanyahu could begin the process of initiating an election as early as later this week.
“The prime minister will tell Lapid that he will not accept the way he and his party have been behaving,” a Netanyahu associate said. “A country cannot be run this way.”
Sources close to Netanyahu said that in the meeting, he would complain about the Finance Ministry breaking promises to transfer billions of shekels to the defense budget and about Lapid’s efforts to form an alternative government without an election.
Lapid’s associates said he would plead with Netanyahu to pass the budget and prevent the public from suffering.
“We have said all along that our differences could be settled in two hours, so we are glad we finally get our two hours,” a source close to Lapid said.
The meeting was set after centenarian United Torah Judaism spiritual mentor Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman rejected a request from Netanyahu to already commit to recommend to President Reuven Rivlin that he form the next government after an election.
Netanyahu plans also to meet Monday with Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Hatnua head Tzipi Livni. He met Sunday with Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who has mediated between Netanyahu and Lapid.
Netanyahu hinted at Sunday’s cabinet meeting that his patience with the on-going coalition crisis is ending, saying he will draw conclusions if the coalition in-fighting does not cease.
“We need governmental stability and proper administration,” he told his cabinet ministers. “This is urgent for the citizens of Israel and also for the State of Israel. Unfortunately this is not what we have seen recently.”
Netanyahu said not a day goes by without threats or dictates from one coalition partner or another, amid the “lashing out by ministers in the government against the government and the person at its head.”
The prime minister said he hoped that the coalition could return to proper conduct, which is what the public expects.
“That is the only way to run a state, and if not we will draw the conclusions.”
Prior to the meeting, Netanyahu confidant Yuval Steinitz, who is the intelligence minister, hit back at Lapid for saying over the weekend that Netanyahu was standing aside as everything is crumbling around him.
“This reminds me of a 16-year-old adolescent who says at first he wants to do everything by himself, ‘the economists and the prime minister don’t interest me, I don’t need their directives,’ and then after a year-and-ahalf, when everything collapses, he says, ‘they are not helping me.’”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon attacked Lapid, accusing him of tricking the Defense Ministry into not receiving funds as well as harming Israel’s relations with the United States and by opposing a long-negotiated deal to purchase F-35 fighter jets from the US.
Yesh Atid MK Ronen Hoffman said Ya’alon was the last person who could accuse anyone of harming Israel’s relations with the US after he angered the administration in Washington by calling US Secretary of State John Kerry “obsessive and messianic.”