Centre will not hold as Lapid rejects block on Netanyahu
In tatters ... a worker in Tel Aviv removes an election banner for Benjamin Netanyahu, who suffered a severe blow in Tuesday's election. Photo: AP
JERUSALEM: As Benjamin Netanyahu scrambled to form a stable coalition, Israel's new political star signalled his intention to join the government, rejecting the idea of forming a centrist ''blocking majority'' to put the brakes on the right-wing Prime Minister.
Yair Lapid's focus on domestic issues, including affordable housing and the abolition of the military service exemption for ultra-orthodox Jews, resonated with voters, whose support won him 19 seats, making his Yesh Atid (There Is A Future) party the second-largest in the new parliament.
The government doesn't have a budget for 2013 ... We are operating essentially in a vacuum. The budget was supposed to be approved half a year ago.
The 49-year-old former television presenter also favours a return to negotiations with the Palestinians, yet during his campaign, he was also conscious of courting the settler vote, launching his campaign in the large West Bank settlement of Ariel.
Rising star ... Yair Lapid won 19 of 120 parliamentary seats and is expected to form a coalition government with incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Getty
So, while his party is ''centrist'', analysts say Mr Lapid won votes from Mr Netanyahu's Likud party and would sit comfortably in a right-leaning coalition.
Israel's election commission released the final results overnight - the right-wing bloc has 61 seats and the centre-left bloc 59 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.
Mr Lapid was quick to lay to rest any idea he might join a centre-left coalition.
Triumph ... supporters of Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party celebrate the results. Photo: AP
''I want to remove this talk of a blocking majority,'' he said. He was pleased Mr Netanyahu had said the next government would tackle the issue of ''sharing the burden'' by drafting ultra-orthodox into the military.
Socio-economic problems will also dominate. Israel is facing a budget crisis - Mr Netanyahu's previous coalition government was unable to agree on a budget with austerity measures to deal with a growing deficit. It was one reason he was forced to call an early election.
Last week, the finance ministry revealed the budget deficit was 39 billion shekels ($9.9 billion), nearly double the 20 billion-shekel target the government set.
Benjamin Netanyahu ... humiliated despite notional victory. Photo: Getty Images
''We must remember that the government doesn't have a budget for 2013,'' said Professor Manuel Trajtenberg, of Tel Aviv University. ''We are operating essentially in a vacuum. The budget was supposed to be approved half a year ago.''
Professor Trajtenberg, who was appointed by Mr Netanyahu to propose solutions to Israel's socio-economic problems, said the government had created its own budget crisis.
''In particular, there was a significant increase in social spending that was supposed to be financed by a cut in defence spending and actually, the opposite happened: defence spending went up,'' he said.
Awareness of economic pressures such as housing and healthcare affordability - two concerns that drove the huge social justice protests of 2011 - was now much higher, he said. ''The public is not willing to take a reduction in social spending in order to finance further increases in the defence budget, as happened in the past. This time, the public is going to stand firm.''