Israel opposition head calls for unity government

By: AFP      Published: 01:43 AM, 19 Apr, 2021
Israel opposition head calls for unity government
Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid.–File photo

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid called Sunday for a "unity government", as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flounders in efforts to form a coalition.

Netanyahu's Likud party emerged from March 23 polls with 30 seats, making it the largest in Israel's 120-member parliament.

With the support of allies, the veteran premier has been trying to form a new coalition with a majority in parliament to stay in power.

In the absence of concrete progress, Lapid, the centrist Yesh Atid party leader, called for a government that would "restore trust between the public and its leaders".

"We have to form a government that will unite us," he told a news conference. 

"Not a right-wing government, not a left-wing government but an Israeli unity government," he said, stressing the need to avoid yet another general election. 

Israel has held four elections since April 2019, with Netanyahu emerging ahead in each but failing to form a stable coalition.

No other political leader has provided an alternative. 

Lapid proposed a unity team of "three right-wing parties, two centrist parties and two left-wing parties", but that would still fall three short of the 61-seat majority.

"We are doing everything" to form a "unity government" that would be "stable and caring", he said.

Netanyahu would need the seven seats of Yamina led by Naftali Bennett, his estranged former protege, in addition to ultra-Orthodox parties and far-right Religious Zionism, to form a coalition.

The premier would also require backing from the Islamic conservative Raam party, whose leader, Mansour Abbas, has not ruled out supporting a Netanyahu-led coalition.

But Bezalel Smotrich, who heads Religious Zionism, on Sunday reiterated he would not join a government with Raam.

"You don't form a government with the support of those whose goal was and remains the destruction of the Zionist project," he wrote in a tweet.

Netanyahu charged that Lapid's projected "unity government" would in fact be based on the left and Arab parties, and he urged Gideon Saar to join a right-wing coalition.

Saar quit Likud in December to form New Hope, which won six seats after a campaign based on a pledge to replace Netanyahu.

"I'm calling on Bennett and Gideon Saar, join us, let's form the strong right-wing government Israel needs," Netanyahu said in a video posted on social media.

Bennett, for his part, said he had met ultra-Orthodox Shas party head Arye Deri to discuss "ways to form a right-wing government".