By Israel Hayom/Exclusive to JNS.org
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A meeting on Monday between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid (leader of the Yesh Atid party), intended as a bid to salvage Israel’s coalition government, ended in a stalemate. As a result, a new election is expected in the country. On Tuesday, Netanyahu proceeded to fire Lapid as well as Hatnuah leader and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.
“The citizens of Israel have entrusted me with great responsibility, and this government has made running the country the way the public expects of us impossible,” Netanyahu said after the failed meeting with Lapid.
In addition to demands that the Finance Ministry agree to the government’s decisions regarding defense spending, Netanyahu requested that Lapid and his Yesh Atid party stop subversively criticizing the government and its decisions, especially regarding construction plans in Jerusalem and Israel’s relationship with the U.S. government. Netanyahu also sought for Yesh Atid to support his bill that formalizes Israel’s status as a Jewish state, and asked Lapid to cancel his proposed zero percent value-added tax (VAT) bill.
“If the unprecedented manner in which some of the ministers have been conducting themselves continues, we will have no choice but to ask the voters to place their faith in us once again,” Netanyahu said. “This is not the alternative I prefer, but a self-impeding coalition, whose ministers hamper its actions and policies in clear contrast to public interest, is worse.”
Netanyahu had also met with Yisrael Beiteinu party leader and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Habayit Hayehudi party head and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, and Livni.
In response to Lapid and Livni’s subsequent firing, Yesh Atid issued a statement Tuesday that Netanyahu “has failed in his management of the country and in dealing with the needs of the Israeli public. The firing of ministers is an act of cowardice and loss of control. We are sad to see that the Prime Minister has chosen to act without consideration for the national interest and to drag Israel to unnecessary elections which will harm the economy and Israeli society, all for narrow political interests and a surrender to the ultra-orthodox parties, the powerful central committee of the Likud and outside lobby groups.”
“I expect you to act responsibly and to stop dragging the IDF and our soldiers into an election for your political needs,” Lapid added in a phone conversation with Netanyahu.
Netanyahu and Lapid’s relationship has been plagued with tension and mistrust. A source privy to the situation told Israel Hayom that Lapid “has systematically violated commitments to increase the defense budget by several billions of shekels, in favor of purchasing advanced weapons systems and training, and has earmarked the money for national projects that should be funded by the Finance Ministry itself, like moving the IDF’s training complex to the Negev.”
Lapid, meanwhile, accused Netanyahu of not delivering on budget and housing reforms that the prime minister had previously guaranteed.
“The government promised the people of Israel that it would pass a social budget and bring down the cost of living,” he said. “The prime minister sat next to me for 11 hours in a government meeting during which we approved the budget, clause after clause. He sat opposite me in the Knesset and voted for the VAT exemption on housing. When we guarantee something to the public, we must carry it out. The prime minister chose last night to act irresponsibly and not to fulfill his promises to the public.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon criticized Lapid’s conduct—especially the finance minister’s recent comment that “the government is stuck and the prime minister is just standing idly by”—saying, “Is that any way for a government minister to talk? That’s the kind of statement someone in the opposition would make. If you’re a part of the government, be a part of the government, and if you think it’s dysfunctional then, by all means, leave the government.”
Meanwhile, Israel’s haredi parties remained skeptical of the Likud party’s offer to call early elections if they pledge to recommend that Netanyahu be the one to form the next government.
Israel’s election laws require the parties elected to the Knesset to recommend to the president who should form the government. The choice traditionally corresponds with the head of the winning party.
Sunday saw Degel Hatorah party MKs, who together with Agudat Israel party MKs make up the United Torah Judaism party, consult on the matter with their spiritual leader, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman.
According to sources privy to the meeting, the party will not join any attempt to topple Netanyahu, but for now it will also refrain from committing to support Netanyahu after the next elections.
MK Uri Maklev, who was present at the meeting, said that since it did not seem that Netanyahu was leaning toward early elections at this time, the subject of post-election endorsement “hasn’t even occurred to us. It’s a premature discussion.”
Deri noted Sunday, “The representatives of the haredi parties have decided not to play any games. This is a bad government and it should be dissolved according to due process.”
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