Israeli opposition leader signals willingness to build government with Arab party

Yair Lapid copying Netanyahu’s outreach to Israeli Arabs goes one step further and says he’d accept Arab parties in his government.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Opposition leader Yair Lapid said Saturday he is willing to have Israel’s Arab party, the Joint List, sit in a government in order to ensure that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is ousted from power.

“I am the one who led the move that said, ‘There is no problem to form a government with the support of the Joint List,'” Lapid, leader of the center-left Yesh Atid party, told Channel 12 news.

Asked if he was prepared to lead a government where Arab parties were members, Lapid replied, “Yes, of course.”

“I hope we will reach the situation were we [Yesh Atid] have good relations with the Joint [List],” Lapid said.

“I said publicly that we have to form a government with the support of the Joint List already in the third round [of elections in 2020],” Lapid said.

Lapid had called after the March, 2020 election for the Blue and White to form a unity government with the support of the Joint List that would have forced Netanyahu into the opposition. “It is a pity that we did not form one,” he said.

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Blue and White received pushback from members of its own party and other opposition politicians to forming a government together with the Joint List at the time, ruling out a possible coalition deal.

The Joint List is the third-largest faction in the Knesset with 15 seats. It is made up of four Arab parties: Balad, Hadash, Ta’al, and the United Arab List, or Ra’am. A closer look at the parties’ platforms makes it clear why Blue and White ran into obstacles when it flirted with the idea of a Joint List coalition.

Balad opposes the idea of a Jewish State, advocating a “state of all its citizens.” Hadash is made up of the Israel communist party and other leftist groups. Ta’al’s leader Ahmed Tibi has referred to Israel as a racist country and accused the IDF of war crimes, and the United Arab List is the southern branch of the Islamic Movement.

In January 2009, Israel’s Central Elections Committee voted by a large majority to ban Ta’al, Ra’am, and Balad from running for elections, citing their support for terrorist groups and their call for an end to Jewish majority rule in Israel. The decision to ban them was overruled by the Supreme Court.

Lapid also said during the Channel 12 interview that he’s ready to work with Gideon Saar, a former Netanyahu confidante who broke off recently from Likud to form a new party.

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“I work well with Gideon [Saar],” Lapid said.

“I have made two major political moves with Gideon in recent years… so we know how to work together,” Lapid said, mentioning their support for the election of Reuven Rivlin as Israel’s president and their no-confidence vote last month to bring down the government and force the fourth elections in Israel in the past two years.

It is not clear which of the two, Lapid or Saar, would lead a government should they succeed. A Channel 12 poll released Jan. 12 shows that 33% of Israeli voters still prefer Netanyahu to head the government, when Saar gets only 13% and Lapid 12%. Ten percent responded they didn’t know and 14% said none of the current party leaders were suitable.

Lapid’s party entered politics in 2013 when it gained 19 seats and became the second largest party in parliament. It currently has 18 seats.

Last year, Lapid merged with the Israeli Resilience party of former IDF commander Benny Gantz and the Telem party headed by another former IDF chief Moshe Yaalon to form the Blue and White coalition that together with Gantz as leader won 33 seats and almost managed to topple Netanyahu in the March, 2020 election.

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Lapid sounded less enthusiastic about a possible re-connection with Gantz, who currently stands to win only five seats, saying that his door was open, but making it clear already last month that Gantz would be subservient to Lapid.

“If Gantz wants to come to me, he knows my phone number – let him call,” Lapid said.

The election takes place on March 23.