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Top 10 challenges Lapid, Bennett face on the way to change

CM 06/05/2021

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 Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid reached the new peak of his political career on Wednesday night, wearing his trademark black shirt in the comfort of his own backyard in Tel Aviv’s Ramat Aviv neighborhood.

Lapid greeted with a smile the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Residence, Harel Tubi, who came to Lapid’s home to deliver the mandate to form a government that President Reuven Rivlin had granted him earlier that evening. They signed the documents on the table in the yard, posed for pictures with the mandate and moved on.
At midnight the previous night, Lapid crossed another milestone in the comfort of his home when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mandate ended after four weeks with no coalition.
But from now on, the comfort is over.
Rivlin recognized the challenges ahead when he granted Lapid the mandate with a caveat.
“It is clear that MK Yair Lapid could form a government that has the confidence of the Knesset, despite there being many difficulties,” Rivlin said.
Lapid’s soon-to-be prime ministerial partner in a rotation, Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett, also crossed a milestone in an odd situation this week. The long-awaited offer from Netanyahu to go first in a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office finally arrived.

But it did not come directly in any of their several face-to-face meetings over the past month, including a secret meeting last Thursday night at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.
Bennett received the offer of his life via a statement to the press that Netanyahu purposely released on WhatsApp 20 minutes before a Yamina faction meeting in which Bennett addressed the media on Monday.
While reporters waited in the next room, an aide read Bennett Netanyahu’s message. The Yamina leader told the aide that the offer was “fake” – using a slang word in Hebrew, instead of his usual English.
Bennett then delivered what Yamina MKs called a passionate address to them in the closed-door portion of the meeting after reporters left the room.
“From the start I tried to help Netanyahu build a right-wing government, but it was never possible,” he said. He told the MKs to withstand pressure from the Likud: “We’re not less right-wing than them, we’re not less nationalist, and we don’t love Israel any less.”
The emotional highlight came when he told the MKs that if any of them had a problem with the formation of a unity government, they should resign immediately. Previously unknown MK Amichai Chikli heard the request, stayed put, and announced his opposition the following day, when Bennett was on his way to the President’s Residence.
Had Chikli not rebelled, Yamina officials believe the Likud and its satellite parties, as well as New Hope, would have recommended Bennett to form a government. But sources close to Rivlin said he never actually had a chance to receive the mandate.
Chikli was a last-minute choice for Bennett to put fifth on his list. It was supposed to go to former Education Ministry director-general Shmuel Abuav, and when he declined, Bennett needed another secular candidate, so he moved up Chikli, who was 9th on Bennett’s New Right list in the April 2019 election and blasted Bennett after the party failed to cross the threshold.
Bennett was furious but stuck to his party’s plan to capture the premiership, which was revealed exclusively by The Jerusalem Post on March 5: Let Netanyahu get the first mandate and fail, let Lapid get the second mandate, but end up being the one who forms the government.
To reach that goal, Bennett knows there are plenty of challenges that he still must endure and his success is by no means guaranteed.
HERE ARE the top 10 obstacles to overcome on the way to building a coalition:

1. Maintaining momentum

Bennett and Lapid both told confidants that they want to reach a deal within a week. They know that if they start fighting over petty details, they could approach the end of the four-week mandate without a deal, and pressure could intensify on the precipice. That is why marathon talks will be conducted, mostly behind the scenes. The days of high-profile talks before the cameras in posh hotels are over.

2. Finishing the fragmenting of the faction

Chikli’s departure has put the “coalition of change” in danger. One more rebellion could be enough to kill it. MKs Ayelet Shaked and Idit Silman vowed to stay with Bennett, but more suspects remain. There will be pressure on Chikli to quit the Knesset and be replaced by the next candidate on the Yamina list, deaf activist Shirley Pinto.

3. Ignoring the opposition

Netanyahu enjoyed being opposition leader and bringing down Ehud Olmert using protests of Second Lebanon War soldiers organized by his chief of staff at the time, Naftali Bennett. Likud and Religious Zionist Party activists will protest outside the homes of Yamina and New Hope MKs and harass their families. It’s not easy, but they must be ignored.

4. Preventing piggishness on portfolios

Bennett and New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar are insisting that all so-called ideological portfolios remain with their parties. If Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz fights to be education minister and Labor leader Merav Michaeli insists on the Interior portfolio, instead of taking the Environment and Health ministries, respectively, there could end up being a fifth election.

5. Mending the mechanism

The outgoing government had arrangements for maintaining equal powers for the Likud and Blue and White despite their different sizes. Their system did not work, due to lack of trust from the outset, which resulted in the paralysis of both the parliament and the ministers. A different mechanism must be found with the same goal of maintaining the balance between Right, Center and Left but with very different results.

6. Avoiding arguments on ideology

Likud faction chairman Miki Zohar tried to start a fight among the parties set to join the coalition by proposing bills strongly supported by Yamina, New Hope and Yisrael Beytenu and opposed by Yesh Atid, Labor and Meretz in the Knesset Arrangements Committee on Tuesday. That was just a preview of what will happen throughout the term. Key ideological issues will have to be set aside for this unity government to last.

7. Enticing the Arabs

There is no coalition possible for Bennett without Ra’am (United Arab List) head Mansour Abbas, just like for Netanyahu. And just as Netanyahu was ready to pay Abbas handsomely for his support of a minority coalition, Bennett will, too. Abbas’s demands are for uncontroversial issues like funding for infrastructure, schools and stopping violence in the Arab sector. The price could be steep but worth paying for long-awaited political stability.

8. Judicious on Judaism

There are very different views on religion and state among the Orthodox MKs in Yamina and the secularists in Yisrael Beytenu. This will not be a government that takes revolutionary steps on such controversial issues. Bennett wants to be extra careful in hopes of wooing Shas or United Torah Judaism to the coalition. That hope may be fruitless, but being careful couldn’t hurt anyway.

9. Control over the coronavirus

It is too easy to forget that the reason for what Bennett calls an emergency government is that there is still a pandemic raging around the world that could easily return to wreak havoc in Israel. Bennett built up his image as a professional in his handling of the virus as defense minister. Now he doesn’t want his party to have the Health portfolio that he demanded from Netanyahu. It will go to Labor or Yesh Atid, but he’d have ultimate control as prime minister. This could be a prescription for problems that proper dialogue could prevent.

10. Explaining to the international community

Foreign media and diplomats are already warning about Netanyahu potentially being replaced by a candidate even further to the Right. Past hawkish statements by Bennett are being highlighted, setting the stage for him to be demonized, and Israel along with him. Having Lapid as his foreign minister, with his moderate persona and his British-accented English could be helpful in telling the world that this will truly be a unity government that represents the entire spectrum and won’t take controversial steps.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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