Jerusalem violence puts Lapid-Bennett gov't in jeopardy amid Arab anger

"Al-Aqsa is a red line," Abbas warned on Saturday. "The aggression toward the holy site and its worshipers is unacceptable and offensive."

YESH ATID leader Yair Lapid and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett arrive at the President’s Residence this week (composite photo). (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
YESH ATID leader Yair Lapid and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett arrive at the President’s Residence this week (composite photo).
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Efforts to form a unity government made significant progress in marathon talks over the weekend, but the coalition could be endangered due to the skirmishes over Muslim prayer in Jerusalem that upset Ra'am (United Arab List) head Mansour Abbas.
Abbas's four votes supporting the coalition from outside are key to establishing a new government. Obtaining a majority of 61 requires Ra'am's votes to join the 57 of Yesh Atid, Blue and White, Labor, Yisrael Beytenu, Meretz, New Hope and Yamina, which is down to six votes without rebel MK Amichai Chikli.
"Al-Aqsa is a red line," Abbas warned on Saturday. "The aggression toward the holy site and its worshipers is unacceptable and offensive."
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and possibly Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett are expected to meet with Abbas on Sunday in order to discuss his price for supporting the government from outside. While he is expected to bring up the chairmanship of the Knesset Interior Committee, funding for Arab schools and infrastructure and preventing violence within the Arab sector, the weekend’s events could result in new demands from Abbas related to Jerusalem.
Lapid hosted meetings of Bennett and himself with New Hope leader Gideon Sa'ar, Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli, and  Blue and White leader Benny Gantz at his Tel Aviv home on Friday. The talks followed a late night meeting Thursday night of Bennett and Lapid.
After all the meetings, both sides expressed optimism that an agreement could be reached this week, allowing a new government to be sworn in ahead of next week's Shavuot holiday.
Following Friday's meetings, Bennett issued a statement on Facebook, saying that he was trying to overcome what he said were significant gaps with potential coalition partners.
Bennett defended himself in light of numerous attacks recently directed at him by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the right-wing bloc as a whole, for preventing the formation of a right-wing government.
"This was not my first choice," Bennett stressed. "I went all out with Netanyahu from the moment he received the mandate. Netanyahu has failed."  
Bennett wrote that two options remain: a fifth round of elections or attempting to form a wide government.
The next government's "organizing principle will be simple," he wrote: "good will and an understanding that not all disagreements between the Right and the Left from the past 70 years have to be solved right at this moment."   
In a blow to Bennett, Chikli told interviewers on three television channels over the weekend that he would refuse to quit the Knesset in favor of the next candidate on the Labor list, deaf activist Shirley Pinto. He said if he cannot stop the government's formation, he would break off from Yamina and become an independent MK.
In another challenge to efforts to form a coalition, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman issued uncompromising demands on matters of religion and state.
The conditions include a law that would ensure that haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men would be drafted to the army, a civil-marriage law, and the transfer of authority regarding the closure of businesses on Saturdays to local governments. He also specified the need to strengthen secular studies in the haredi sector, and the approval of a state budget.
The statement closed with a promise to promote several key issues, including enforcing a two-term limit on the Prime Minister's Office, a law requiring citizens to vote on Election Day, and a life sentence for those found guilty of raping minors, which would be part of a larger scheme to combat domestic violence.
Liberman also promised to establish two state commissions of inquiry, one into the Mount Meron disaster, and a second into the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He said Yisrael Beytenu could be counted on to keep its promises after keeping one by recommending Lapid to President Reuven Rivlin to form a government.
"In all four recent elections, including the last round, we have been transparent, clear and consistent," Liberman said. "In the last election campaign, we pledged to recommend the party leader from the 'change' camp with the highest number of seats, and this is what we did in our consultations with the president."