Yair Lapid 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu changed his approach to coalition talks 180
degrees on Sunday night and unexpectedly invited Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party to
join the government he is forming.
Lapid complained last week that his
party was not being invited to coalition talks.
Netanyahu had not spoken
out in favor of Yesh Atid joining the coalition since he met with Lapid shortly
after the January 22 election.
Relations between Netanyahu and Lapid
deteriorated following a statement the Yesh Atid leader made about running
against Netanyahu in the next general election. The prime minister vowed in
closed conversations not to form a coalition without haredi (ultra-Orthodox)
parties, while Lapid was quoted as saying he would not join a government with
But a political pact Lapid made with Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali
Bennett made it impossible for Netanyahu to form a coalition without both Bayit
Yehudi (12 Knesset seats) and Yesh Atid (19). Shortly before Netanyahu’s
invitation to Lapid was sent to the press on Sunday night, Likud sources said
the prime minister had realized he had no choice but to back
“Netanyahu calls for the formation of a government with a majority
from the nationalist camp and invites Yesh Atid to join as well,” a Likud
statement said. “Bayit Yehudi was the first party that received an offer to join
The main campaign promise Bayit Yehudi made to
its voters was that it would join a Netanyahu-led government and strengthen it
from the right. The only thing currently stopping the formation of a government
with a majority from the nationalist camp is the refusal of Bayit Yehudi to join
Likud Beytenu and Bayit Yehudi negotiating teams met
late on Sunday following the conclusion of Purim to discuss the as yet unpassed
2013 state budget and a compromise proposal for equalizing the burden of service
that Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid had agreed on.
Bennett persuaded Lapid to
make significant concessions on the issue, including increasing the limit on
yeshiva students who do not serve, raising the age at which haredim will be
drafted, and not fining draft evaders personally.
“The gaps between our
parties are not as wide as the statements of Bennett and his associates would
indicate,” a source in the Likud Beytenu negotiating team was quoted as saying
before the meeting.
In a statement seen by his supporters as his last
chance to let off steam before joining the coalition, Bennett wrote on Facebook
that he made the pact with Lapid, because the Likud had decided to leave Bayit
Yehudi out of the government.
“Without coordinating with Lapid, there
would have been a government of Likud Beytenu, The Tzipi Livni Party, Yesh Atid,
Kadima and Shas without Bayit Yehudi,” Bennett wrote.
“Such a government
would have proceeded according to Livni’s diplomatic approach of concessions in
Jerusalem and Ariel and obsessing over the Palestine Liberation
Our coordination changed the map and forced the Likud to
bring in Bayit Yehudi. Thanks to the coordination, now the government will be
oriented toward internal socioeconomic issues and not only diplomatic ones. We
will not veer from our principles, and the public can judge us over the next
Lapid’s spokeswoman declined to react to Netanyahu’s
apparent change of heart. But Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz, who has coordinated
his recent moves with Lapid, wrote an optimistic statement on
“Even with two mandates, we will fight for the same principles
we worked to advance with 28 [which Kadima won in the 2009 election], including
restarting diplomatic talks, equalizing the burden of service, a new
socioeconomic agenda and changing the electoral system,” Mofaz wrote. “After we
joined the government to advance these issues and left it when they were not implemented, I hope and
believe that these will be the principles on which the next government will be
Shas officials responded defiantly that if their party was left
out of the coalition, Netanyahu would regret the decision much more than they
would. In closed conversations they blamed Bennett for boycotting
“We won’t be miserable if we are not in the coalition,” Shas MK
Nissim Ze’ev said. “The prime minister has a right to decide what he feels is
best for him politically, but for the country it’s very wrong. He won’t be able
to run the country without the haredim, and the socioeconomic problems will
multiply. The prime minister will pay the price when the threats come from the
strange bond of Lapid and Bennett. The Likud will be sorry.”