The war of words between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid escalated on Monday, as the rivals sparred over disagreements beyond the pressing debate over the 2015 budget.
At a meeting of the IDF General Staff in the Eshkol Regional Council, Netanyahu veiled his criticism of his finance minister. "It is easiest to hand out promise after promise, but much harder to maintain a responsible policy."
Yesh Atid quickly issued a response – addressing both Netanyahu's statement and his meeting with Haredi representatives. Minister Yaakov Peri, talking to Arab MKs, asked whether they would support Lapid replacing current Opposition Chairman Isaac Herzog, if Lapid was to drop out of the coalition.
The faction said the exploratory meeting was part of preparations for "the possibility that the budget does not pass and the crisis is not resolved."
At the IDF General Staff meeting, Netanyahu noted that "the government approved an unprecedentedly comprehensive assistance plan for the south. In order to build up our state we need a strong economy and defense."
Netanyahu emphasized that "throughout the years we have maintained a responsible budgetary policy and the results were clear. The Israeli economy received high remarks from international markets."
The prime minister stressed the importance of raising the defense budget, one of the central points in his disagreement with Lapid. "The security threats demand a significant increase in the defense budget. I am responsible to maintain our security and our economy; these are the considerations which guided me in the state budgets I passed through now."
Netanyahu met with Haredi representatives at his residence – for the second time in two weeks – on Monday morning. MK Gafni and Litzman, of Untied Torah Judaism, were invited urgently at the request of Netanyahu, for an emergency meeting scheduled Sunday night.
Though neither side agreed to discuss the proceedings, political sources believe that the prime minister's invitation signals a warming up to the Haredi factions in the case that he must construct a new coalition over the winter session.
No final decision was taken on an injection to the defense budget at the Sunday afternoon meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Finance Minister Lapid, though a senior official at Yesh Atid told Ynet that the education, health, and welfare will increase in 2015.
"They will find a way to inject cash to defense, so that Netanyahu could say he succeeded and Lapid will say he did not raise taxes and passed the zero percent VAT."