Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his finance minister, Yair Lapid (pictured), held a stormy meeting on Monday that was intended to save the governing coalition, but instead made the prospect of early elections all the more likely.
Lapid heads the Yesh Atid party, which is the largest single party in Netanyahu’s coalition. He has for months been at odds with the prime minister over a proposed economic reform that would eliminate taxes on young couples buying their first home, a move Lapid hoped would stimulate Israel’s slumping housing market and bring prices more within reach of average Israelis.
During their meeting, Netanyahu demanded that Lapid freeze the plan, which had been the central plank in Yesh Atid’s electoral platform. He also insisted that Lapid openly back the controversial “Jewish State” bill that would codify Israel’s nature first and foremost as the national homeland of the Jewish people. Lapid and other left-leaning ministers fear the bill would result in discrimination against Israel’s minorities.
Following the meeting, Lapid accused Netanyahu of secretly acting on behalf the ultra-Orthodox parties, with whom it is rumored he would like to form the next government.
“The prime minister decided once again to behave irresponsibly for the nation and put the needs of the public last on his priorities,” Lapid said. “The citizens of Israel understand today that they are led by a prime minister who does not keep his promises, who prefers his own political survival over the good of the public.”
For his part, Netanyahu insisted that the constant bickering and threats from his ministers had made it impossible to effectively govern.
“If the unprecedented behavior of the ministers continues, we will have no choice but to request the support of the voters again,” the prime minister said. “It is not the choice I want, but it is worse to have a government with ministers who harm it against the interest of the public.”
Opposition parties have already submitted a motion for the dissolution of the Knesset, and party officials say Netanyahu’s Likud faction will support them, thereby accelerating the process of early elections, which would presumably be held by mid-March of next year.
Current polls suggest that Netanyahu and his Likud will handily win the election, and that the right-wing overall will benefit, while leading centrist and left-wing parties will almost all lose mandates.