Center-left bloc against Netanyahu possibly expanding two and a half weeks before elections: Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid announced Saturday that he will meet Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich and Hatnua Chairwoman Tzipi Livni to discuss the possibility establishing a "united front" of center-left parties with the goal of removing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power but stated is is unwilling to rule out a place in a Likud-led government.
On Friday Yachimovich and Livni agreed to meet to discuss the possibility of forming a united bloc. Meretz has already voiced its support for the initiative.
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Speaking at a cultural forum in Kiryat Bialik, Lapid said "Of course I will accept Livni and Yachimovich's request to meet. I meet with any element in the political establishment who wishes to discuss matters with me. This week I had coffee and a long conversation with Shelly Yachimovich. There is no big drama here. The political system is built in a way that its leaders meet all the time."
Lapid hinted that he believed Livni's initiative should have been planned discreetly. "I don’t like it when people act out of pressure, and it seemed odd to me that (the establishment of a united center-left bloc) was announced on television with a dramatic statement," he said.
Coffee talk. Lapid and Yachimovich (Photo: Motti Kimchi)
Over the past few days Lapid, Yachimovich and Livni have been discussing the possibility of forming a united bloc against Netanyahu. Lapid told the cultural forum that in any case he would not join a coalition consisting of Shas and Habayit Hayehudi.
"I will not sit as a fifth wheel in a government of haredim and the extreme right because it is pointless. I want the billions to go to education and discharged soldiers."
Later on Saturday Lapid wrote on his Facebook page that he has "no interest in joining any united bloc, because I do not tend to boycott people and parties.
"During the meeting (with Livni and Yachimovich) I will suggest that in the likely event that Netanyahu will form the next government we should join it so it will not be a government of haredim and the extreme right that will once again take our money," he wrote.
He later posted another message that said, "Shelly and Tzipi want us to announce we won't join the government? What good could come of that? A rightist and haredi government?"
He further added, "We're taking the lead and proposing the opposite. Instead of ignoring the likely possibility that Netanyahu will form the next government, let's join it together and then instead of a haredi government, we'll have a sane, moderate collation that will act for the benefit of the Israeli middle class? Doesn't that make more sense?
In closed conversations Lapid estimated that there is a slim chance that such a united bloc would be formed. Over the past 24 hours he told Yachimovich and Livni that it would be a mistake to ignore the possibility that Netanyahu would assemble the next government, because this would lead to a government controlled by the "extreme right, and billions belonging to the middle class will once again be transferred to yeshivas and illegal settlements."
'Not written in the stars.' Lapid and Livni (Photo: Motti Kimchi)
The center-left factions will not be able to merge as the deadline for registering parties and candidate lists for the January 22 elections has already passed. However, they can coordinate their positions ahead of the establishment of the next government.
Earlier on Saturday, Livni told a cultural forum in Tel Aviv that "anyone who understands the gravity of the moment must rally around the initiative I presented in order to replace Netanyahu.
"When people will see me, Shelly, Yair and (Kadima leader Shaul) Mofaz and anyone else who understands that these are troubled times united together around the goal of replacing Netanyahu – all of those who have given up will go out and vote," she said.
"It is not written in the stars that Netanyahu will be prime minister. Together we are larger than Likud-Beiteinu, which is slipping (in the polls)," Livni told the forum, adding that the center-left parties must work together in the face of the "alliance of the extremists between Likud-Beiteinu, Habayit Hayehudi and the haredim - an alliance that favors Greater Israel over the Jewish state and the Halacha over the law. This may be the end of Zionism, so we must act now. If we don’t, we will get an even more extreme government after the elections."
Yachimovich told a different cultural forum in Tel Aviv Saturday that the current regime can be overthrown. "My announcement on Thursday that we (Labor) will not join a Netanyahu-Lieberman government and that I will either form the next coalition or sit in the opposition created positive waves on the ground and revived the election race," she said.
"I hope (the announcement) caused the centrist parties to realize that they mustn't give up or accept the reelection of Netanyahu and (Avigdor) Lieberman to another term and that replacing Netanyahu is a possibility, particularly in light of the fact that Likud-Beiteinu is very weak."
Knesset Member Ophir Akunis of the ruling Likud party responded to the initiative by saying that the Left is trying to "block the establishment of a national government headed by Netanyahu. This should serve as a warning for rightist voters not to repeat past mistakes."
Livni told Channel 2 on Friday that a center-left bloc must be formed to prevent the establishment of a "radical rightist ultra-Orthodox government.
"Especially in light of the public's despair, we, as leaders, cannot give up," she added. "The fact that the Likud-Beiteinu is dropping in the polls poses an opportunity to join forces… I call on Yair Lapid and Shelly Yachimovich to work together to generate hope and create an effective political force that would replace Netanyahu."
Yuval Karni and Moran Azulay are Ynet and Yedioth Ahronoth correspondents
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