Lapid: Bennett turned down my offer to serve first as PM

Bennett apparently wanted more right-wing power in a coalition to share power with the center and leftist parties.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said Monday he offered right-wing Yemina Party leader Naftali Bennett the option of being prime minister in a coalition government with Lapid switching with him after two years, but Bennett did not accept.

“The test of leaders is to make tough decisions in the face of complex situations,” the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party said in a televised press conference at the end of a day of marathon meetings to determine who President Reuven Rivlin would choose to try and form a new government.

In the March 23 elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party won only 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, and the most he can manage with smaller coalition partners is 52 seats, while Lapid had the support of 45 members.

Bennett’s party won 7 seats and a merger with Lapid and other parties opposed to Netanyahu might have made a difference. Before giving their recommendations to Rivlin on who they recommend to try and form a coalition, the two leaders had held two days of intensive talks on how to share power.

“I offered to Bennett that together we could form a unity government and he would be first the first in the rotation [to serve as prime minister], Lapid said. “That’s what the country needs now. Israelis have to know and see that their leaders know how to cooperate.”

However, Bennett turned down the offer and instead his party told Rivlin that Bennett himself should be tasked with the job.

“Yair Lapid gave Bennett the premiership for the first two years in a rotation government, on a silver platter, but Bennett is wavering,” commented Yisrael Hayom‘s political affairs correspondent Mati Tuchfeld. “He fears he will be blamed for creating a left-wing government with his own hands, not to mention one that relies on Arab MKs.”

Had Bennett agreed, it would have seen him head a coalition including the left-wing Labor and Meretz parties, but also one or more Arab parties – a step that might have been too much for his electorate.

According to Tuchfeld, Bennett demanded from Lapid that the senior cabinet portfolios relevant to right-wing voters be given to Yemina, including the finance, justice, interior, religious affairs and culture portfolios. Bennett also wanted a majority of ministers in the government and the cabinet, but Lapid rejected the demands.

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On Monday, Rivlin meet with all 13 parties that won seats in the Knesset to hear their recommendations on whom he should task with forming a government. The New Hope party comprised mostly of former Likud members who broke away from Netanyahu, called on Rivlin to reach out to Lapid and Bennett to help broker a solution, but Rivlin immediately rejected the idea as constituting political intervention, which he is barred by law from doing.

Rivlin told the New Hope members that should Lapid or Bennett make the request, he would consider it. However, by Tuesday morning that hadn’t happened and the president announced that he had selected Netanyahu – who now has 28 days to try and hammer together a 61-seat majority in the Knesset.

“The president has fulfilled his duty and had no choice, but to impose the mandate on Netanyahu,” tweeted Lapid in response, adding that with Netanyahu on trial for corruption the decision “is a shameful embarrassment that tarnishes Israel and casts disgrace on our status as a law-abiding state.”