Netanyahu, Lapid blame each other for early elections

Netanyahu blasted Lapid’s 2015 budget proposal and flagship zero-percent VAT plan; Lapid telling an audience that the prime minister and his associates had not spoken to him in the past month.

Netanyahu and Lapid (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Netanyahu and Lapid
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took steps over the weekend to make Finance Minister Yair Lapid the scapegoat for the early elections he intends to initiate next month.
The prime minister plans to formally submit on Sunday his version of the controversial “Jewish state” bill, which will be much less extreme than versions proposed by coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and Bayit Yehudi faction head Ayelet Shaked. Their bills, which were supposed to be voted on in the Knesset Wednesday, are now unlikely to come to a vote.
The new version of the bill, which will be voted on by the cabinet next Sunday, will attempt to guarantee the rights and equality of Israel’s minorities alongside promoting Israel’s national symbols. A source close to Netanyahu said the prime minister made sure Justice Minister Tzipi Livni will be able to support his version of the bill.
Netanyahu’s associates said he wanted to end the debate over the “Jewish state” bill, which is strongly opposed by President Reuven Rivlin, who will decide which party will form the next government. Instead, the prime minister wants the reason for the election to be Lapid preventing him from governing.
“The coalition will only survive if I can govern,” Netanyahu told confidants on Friday. “I’m not sticking to my chair. I was chosen to run the country and the nation as I see fit, but I can’t run the country this way.
If Yesh Atid and Lapid continue their irresponsible behavior, it will be right to go back to the voters.”
Netanyahu blasted Lapid’s 2015 state budget proposal and his flagship zero-percent VAT plan, saying the budget would harm the IDF and Israel’s security, while the VAT plan would “waste billions, won’t lower cost of housing and will help only contractors close to Lapid advisers.”
“I heard Lapid’s slogans about fresh politics but the politics I see from him are the old bad kind of back-room deals with the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) to try to topple the prime minister and form an alternative government,” Netanyahu said. “Such dirty political maneuvers do not serve the citizens of the country and I can’t accept them.”
Lapid lashed back at Netanyahu, telling an audience at a cultural event in Tel Aviv that the prime minister and his associates had not spoken to him in the past month even as serious decisions needed to be made.
“Everything is stuck and the prime minister is standing on the side,” Lapid said. “The housing reforms are stuck, the budget is stuck, our international relations are deteriorating. Instead of passing the budget and dealing with all these problems, they are dealing with the most petty politics.”
Lapid reiterated that he was not afraid of elections but that the people do not want or need them. His associates said Netanyahu would not succeed in making Lapid the fall guy for an unnecessary election.
“Everyone will know it’s Bibi’s fault if elections are initiated, not Lapid’s,” a source close to the finance minister said. “All the disputes can be worked out. But we’re the largest faction and we won’t concede to the prime minister just to avoid elections.”
Netanyahu’s efforts to draft the haredi parties’ support for him forming the next government after the election hit a snag Saturday night when Shas leader Arye Deri told Channel 2 he would not make such a commitment.
“I told Netanyahu I would make a deal,” Deri said. “I told him to initiate elections and I won’t cooperate with any effort to form an alternative government not led by him without an election. But I won’t promise what will happen after the election. I don’t know what blocs there will be.”
Deri said his main demands in coalition talks would be lowering VAT and raising the minimum wage. Netanyahu’s associates said Deri might have different demands and promises behind closed doors.
Sources in United Torah Judaism said they have given Netanyahu a list of demands in return for their support. The list includes removing sanctions against haredi draft evaders and enlarging stipends for yeshiva students.
Yesh Atid MK Adi Kol asked Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon to probe whether Netanyahu’s associates negotiating the next government’s terms with Shas and UTJ was legal. Elkin responded by asking Yinon to probe the legality of Yesh Atid’s own negotiations with the haredi parties.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, meanwhile, started preparing for elections by releasing to Yediot Aharonot a surprisingly dovish diplomatic plan he revealed to The Jerusalem Post two months ago.
Former social welfare minister Moshe Kahlon also continued his preparations for the next election.
Israel Radio revealed a recording of a political rally for Kahlon’s party-in- the-making with 400 people last week.
“Our current leaders are dealing with wasteful conflicts,” he said. “I want to return power to the people and take it from the powerful tycoons. The politicians and interest groups want to say that’s the way it is and it can’t be changed. We can’t fall into that trap.”