Lapid says fears Netanyahu 'like Trump' will dispute election's legitimacy if he loses

Exclusive: Speaking to Ynet, PM warns of a scenario in which Likud will question election results if Netanyahu does not win, and shares worries about meteoric rise of far-right firebrand Itamar Ben Gvir

Attila Somfalvi|
Prime Minister Yair Lapid in an interview with Ynet
(Video: Nadav Eves, Hagai Dekel, Eric Marmor)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Sunday morning that he fears that opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu will not recognize the results of the upcoming general elections.
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  • "[The opposition] have already started filing petitions to the election committee and it is possible that they are planning a move where if [Netanyahu] does not win - he will try to question the legitimacy of the elections," Lapid said in an interview with Ynet.
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    ראש הממשלה יאיר לפיד בראיון לynet
    ראש הממשלה יאיר לפיד בראיון לynet
    Prime Minister Yair Lapid
    (Photo: Dana Kopel)
    The prime minister said he believes that the best outcome of the November 1 election — Israel's fifth in under four years — would be a national unity government headed by his Yesh Atid Party and Netanyahu's Likud party, but without the conservative leader who is facing corruption charges.
    "You cannot sit down with Netanyahu because he has three indictments. This is about our values, this is a man who has serious criminal charges against him. He must finish his trial," he said.
    "..because people with serious criminal charges should not be in senior positions in the State of Israel. It completely distorts their entire system of considerations, it's dangerous, and it's mostly unethical.
    I will not sit with Netanyahu in the same government. If he is acquitted, there is something to talk about. We need a unity government with Likud, but without Netanyahu."
    Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and says the charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery amount to a witch hunt. But the case has cast a deep shadow over his family and his legacy as Israel's longest-serving prime minister.
    The premier also said he doubts Netanyahu will manage to form a viable coalition government.
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    בנימין נתניהו
    בנימין נתניהו
    Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu
    (Photo: Sivan Farage)
    "Netanyahu failed four times to form a government, and in front of you sits the man who succeeded in forming a government," he said, although Netanyahu did manage to form a unity government with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and his Blue & White party after the third election cycle in early 2020.
    "He will fail a fifth time, and we will go and form a good government for the people of Israel."
    When asked about the rise of far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir in opinion polls, Lapid equated voting for the Otzma Yehudit chairman to voting against the IDF.
    "Ben Gvir is a completely different animal. Voting for Ben Gvir is voting against the IDF," he said.
    "Voting for Ben Gvir is voting for the people who assault the commander of the [Paratroopers Brigade's] 202nd battalion and his soldiers. It's outright voting against the IDF."
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    הדיון בבג"ץ
    הדיון בבג"ץ
    Otzma Yehudit Chairman Itamar Ben Gvir
    (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)
    Lapid also touted his government's crackdown on Palestinian terrorism and addressed claims Israelis' sense of personal security has deteriorated in recent months.
    "Terrorism has reared its head even before the establishment of the state, there was always terror and there will always be terror," he said.
    "I can't argue with feelings, I know the facts. The Shin Bet brought me data three days ago according to which we have prevented 370 terrorist attacks in the last few months alone.
    We, and I don't say this with joy, have killed more terrorists in the last year than have been killed here for many, many years. We are working intensively to ensure security, but the opposition's pretense that terrorism has started now is ridiculous. After all, Israelis were killed here and there were terrorist attacks here throughout the entire existence of the state. I was the head of the opposition and we never blamed the government for this, because we are responsible people."
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    פעילות צה"ל ומג"ב בקבר יוסף
    פעילות צה"ל ומג"ב בקבר יוסף
    Israeli forces during counterterrorism activity in Nablus
    (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
    On September 22, Lapid gave a speech at the UN General Assembly wherein he invoked the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — something that his predecessors, Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett, avoided.
    He received criticism for the move from right-wing lawmakers, including from members of his own coalition, with some claiming he chose to do so for political reasons only, but Lapid said he is sure he did the right thing.
    "First of all, the job of an Israeli prime minister is to chart a path forward for his country, that's what you do," he said. "I believe in two states for two peoples, but we have to remember the caveats to that: we will never agree to the right of return, we will never divide Jerusalem - not even one neighborhood in the east of the city - and the major settlement blocks will remain in Israel.
    And of course, without the security arrangements that the defense establishment requires, we will not go for such a move at all. Having said that, the State of Israel has to decide whether it wants to control three million Palestinians in Jenin, Nablus and Ramallah who hate us or break with them. If you ask me, under the right conditions and with the right guarantees, we want to break with them."
    Despite heading to the upcoming elections as prime minister, Lapid seems to have a mountain to climb on his way to forming a government.
    Opinion polls project his center-left bloc will struggle to gain a majority in the Knesset without the backing of the predominately Arab and anti-Zionist Hadash-Ta'al alliance.
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    עופר כסיף איימן עודה אחמד טיבי חד"ש תע"ל השקת הקמפיין בעברית
    עופר כסיף איימן עודה אחמד טיבי חד"ש תע"ל השקת הקמפיין בעברית
    Hadash-Ta'al co-leaders Ahmad Tibi and Ayman Odeh
    (Photo: Hadash-Ta'al)
    Additionally, Lapid's coalition partners Labor, Meretz and Ra'am are all teetering over the electoral threshold and if even one of them fails to muster enough support, it could spell doom for his hopes of maintaining the premiership.
    His defense minister, Benny Gantz, also presents himself as a candidate who can form the next government, based on the perception that Netanyahu's ultra-Orthodox allies would agree to join a government led by the former IDF chief rather than Lapid.
    Lapid avoided answering questions about the makeup of his potential government but was only willing to commit that Hadash-Ta'al will not be part of the government.
    "We've said it a thousand times," he said. "They don't want to be part of the government, and especially I don't."
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