In Coalition Talks, Bennett and Lapid Form United Front

A political alliance between two relative newcomers appears to be complicating efforts by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new coalition, after his Likud party emerged as the winner in Israel’s January election and was tasked by Israel’s president Shimon Peres with creating the next government.

Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party is coordinating closely with Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party to influence what parties Netanyahu can bring into his coalition. Between them, the two parties have the same number of seats in Israel’s Knesset as Netanyahu’s Likud party in its combined list with Israel Beitenu. If Bennett and Lapid choose to stay outside of the government, Netanyahu would find it difficult to reach the 61 seats he needs to form a government, though he could try and move ahead with a 57-seat minority government as Ariel Sharon did for several years in the 2000s, including the period surrounding Israel’s disengagement from Gaza and part of the northern West Bank.

Bennett and Lapid are considered likely allies for Netanyahu, but fear a broad-based government that includes religious parties would not be able to implement social and economic reforms that both are committed to pursuing. Bennett explained his thoughts on coordinating with Lapid in a recent Facebook post picked up by Israeli media:

This coordination has changed the political map and forced the Likud to bring in Habayit Hayehudi. Because of this coordination, the government will be focused on social, economic and domestic issues, and not just diplomatic ones. This government will focus on social and economic issues in Israel (lowering the cost of living, lowering the cost of apartments, education, values, promoting Jewish identity, strengthening the Negev and Galilee), and will not only obsessively preoccupy itself with talking to Abu Ala [former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei].”

It would be unprecedented if Netanyahu – whose party won control of roughly 25% of the Knesset in the last election – was unable to form a government. Nonetheless it might be in Lapid and Bennett’s interests to engineer exactly that. A poll released last night by the leading Dahaf public opinion company indicated that [Hebrew] the next round of elections, if they took place, would see Lapid’s party improve by 7 seats, to 26, and Bennett’s party improve by 2, to 14. Netanyahu and his Likud party were predicted to drop to 28.

[Photo: Mati Milstein / The Israel Project]