Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid is willing to reach an agreement with Yamina leader Naftali Bennett that would enable Bennett to go first in a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office, sources in Lapid’s party said on Wednesday.
The sources said Lapid is willing to make such an offer, even though Yesh Atid won 17 seats in the March 23 election and Yamina won only seven. But Bennett has rejected invitations to meet with Lapid, despite mediation by New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar.
Yesh Atid officials said that as part of such an agreement, Bennett would have to publicly rule out using the mandate to build a coalition with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud’s satellite parties and announce that he would break his campaign promises to not sit in a coalition with Meretz and a coalition backed by Arab parties.
Netanyahu called on his former political allies, Bennett and Sa’ar, to set aside their past disputes and join a government led by him, in a statement to the public on Wednesday night. Netanyahu said the public gave a majority to parties on the Right and a stable government can be formed.
“The nation decided that we must sit together,” Netanyahu told Bennett and Sa’ar, in his first public statement since the election. “Come home to your natural home on the Right.”
Netanyahu warned that any other government would be left-wing, unstable and would not last. He stopped short of offering Bennett a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office, but sources close to him said Bennett and Sa’ar would be welcomed in the Likud.
Sa’ar responded that it was wrong of Netanyahu to reach out to him on the same day that he and his allies spread conspiracy theories about him and President Reuven Rivlin. He was referring to reports that Netanyahu had told Likud ministers that Rivlin would grant the mandate to form the government to Bennett as part of a plot by Rivlin and Sa’ar.
“I will keep my promises to the voters,” Sa’ar wrote on Twitter. “I will not join, nor will I support a government led by Netanyahu. The continuation of the rule of Netanyahu, who prefers his personal good to that of the state, harms Israel.”
Sa’ar said a government led by another Likud figure could be formed easily and quickly. He singled out Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Finance Minister Israel Katz and MK and former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat.
Bennett also appeared to reject Netanyahu’s offer.
“Naftali Bennett is concerned about the citizens of Israel, not reserved slots,” his Yamina Party said in a statement to the press. “Bennett will continue making every effort to form a good and stable government that will save Israel from the chaos.”
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz said at a press conference at Ramat Gan’s Kfar Maccabiah hotel and convention center on Wednesday that Netanyahu must be replaced, and it does not matter by who.
Gantz spoke ahead of the end of his three-month term as acting justice minister. Gantz lamented that because Netanyahu will not bring the appointment to a vote, there will be no justice minister as Netanyahu’s criminal trial resumes.
“This is a wake-up call to all the honest people in politics,” Gantz said. “It is a time of emergency, so it is less important who will be prime minister, as long as Netanyahu stops serving in his post and we will agree on an honest and statesmanlike government that will serve all the citizens.”
Gantz said getting parties from the Center to the Right to join the effort to replace Netanyahu is complicated, a reference to Bennett. He said the effort would require more talks to find a solution enabling the formation of a new government.
Regarding Lapid, Gantz would only say that Blue and White will support the candidate who will have the best chance of replacing the government.
Gantz met on Wednesday with Lapid in the second meeting of the former allies turned rivals in five days, after not meeting for more than a year.
“The two continued discussions on the solution for forming a government that will replace Netanyahu,” a spokesman for Lapid said. “The discussions will continue in the coming days.”
Lapid is set to meet on Thursday with Joint List leaders Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi but not with the third head of the list, Balad Party head Sami Abou Shahadeh. Odeh and Tibi are said to be willing to endorse Lapid if he agrees to their demands.
Balad announced on Wednesday that its governing council has decided not to recommend to Rivlin that any candidate receive the mandate to form the government.
“Balad calls on all Arab parties to avoid making any recommendations, among other reasons because the candidates deny the rights of the Palestinian people,” said the party.
The head of the Ra’am (United Arab List) Party which broke off from Balad, Mansour Abbas, is set to address the nation in Hebrew on Thursday. Sources in Ra’am said Abbas would decide what side to support only on Saturday.
KAN reported on Wednesday that Netanyahu’s speech was intended to lay the groundwork for a coalition with Ra’am, by indicating that he tried first to form a right-wing government but was left with no choice but to build a coalition backed by Abbas.
Eve Young contributed to this report.•