In what could be the first sign of a major political realignment, the Yesh Atid party canceled its next primary, and proclaimed chairman MK Yair Lapid as its undisputed leader for at least the next three Knesset sessions. The party was supposed to conduct primaries at the end of the term of the 22nd Knesset – a date that is likely to come within three weeks, if, as expected, no government is formed. Under the proclamation by the party’s steering committee Thursday, Lapid will function as party head through the end of term of the 25th Knesset.
Political analysts said that the move could be the first indication that after two failed campaigns with Benny Gantz, Lapid was preparing to make a run of his own. Under his current deal, Yesh Atid merged with Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party to create Blue and White, with Lapid entering into a rotation agreement with Gantz that would see him take the prime minister’s office two and a half years into the term of a Blue and White-led government.
Things haven’t quite worked out as expected. While Blue and White performed well in Knesset elections – with the party getting more seats than the Likud in the September election – Gantz was unable to form a government, with his mandate to do so expiring Wednesday night.
That there have been tensions between the two is not a secret. Throughout the 60-day period in which Gantz and before him Binyamin Netanyahu sought to form a government, Gantz has sought to form a unity government with his Likud rival – but Lapid has prevented him from doing so. Channel 12 reported Wednesday that in internal meetings, Gantz slammed Lapid for his stance. According to the report, Gantz said that “because of Lapid the chances of a unity government were removed from the table.”
There are other tensions in Blue and White. According to the report, Gantz was prepared to make a deal with the United Arab List that would have had him voted in as prime minister, with the support of Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu. The plan was to run such a government for a short period of time, enabling Gantz to assemble a government that, after it fell, would function as a caretaker government during the period leading up to the next election. But Gantz was prevented from doing so, he told advisors at the meeting, by rightwing MKs Yoaz Hendel and Tzvi Hauser, who said they would not support a government “protected” by the votes of Arab MKs. “Because of Yoaz [Hendel] and Zvika [Hauser] I am not prime minister,” Gantz told confidantes at the meeting.
The Knesset now enters a 21-day period which will be a last-ditch attempt to form a government. If one is not formed by the end of that period, the Knesset will be dispersed and new elections will be called. Analysts said Thursday that given the tensions in Blue and White, there was more than a good chance that the party would splinter into its various factions before the next election.