Home Global News Deadline for Netanyahu’s opponents to race on unity government

Deadline for Netanyahu’s opponents to race on unity government

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JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents race the clock to finalize a coalition government that would end his 12-year rule before a deadline at midnight on Wednesday.

Centrist Yair Lapid and ultranationalist Naftali Bennett join forces and agree to rotate the premiership between them, with Bennett being the first. But they were still working to form a ruling coalition that would include parties across the political spectrum.

Israeli media reported some disagreement over lower-level political appointments. According to reports, Bennett’s deputy Ailet Shaked in the Yamina party was demanding a place on the committee to select the country’s judges.

But Shaked, a leading voice in Israel’s hardline right, has expressed doubts about joining forces with vulnerable members of the emerging coalition.

Both Shaked and Bennett have come under heavy pressure from Netanyahu and the country’s right-wing base not to join their opponents. The Knesset, or parliament, has appointed additional security guards in recent days due to both death threats and online provocations.

As of Wednesday night, less than two hours before the midnight (2100 GMT; 5 p.m. EDT) deadline, there was still no deal.

In a sign of progress, Lapid announced a coalition agreement with the United Arab List, a minor Islamist party whose support is crucial to securing the coalition. The deal would make it the first Arab party to be part of an Israeli-ruled coalition. But there was still no agreement with Yamina, the last holdout in the emerging government.

Lapid must inform Israel’s largely ceremonial president, Reuven Rivlin, by midnight that he has formed a coalition with a majority of at least 61 seats in the Knesset. The assembly will then have a week to hold the trust vote.

If Lapid misses the deadline, the country will surely hold its fifth election in just two years, and Netanyahu will have another chance to stay in office as he faces a corruption trial.

Netanyahu’s Likud won the most seats in the March 23 election, but was unable to form a majority with his traditional religious and nationalist allies.

Importantly, a far-right party allied with Netanyahu refused to join forces with a smaller Arab party that emerged as one of the kingmakers in the race.

Netanyahu had hoped to extend his long reign and fight corruption charges from the prime minister’s office. He has emerged in recent years as a deeply polarizing force, having left Israel in prolonged political limbo through a series of precarious elections.

An emergency government formed last year between Netanyahu and former military chief Benny Gantz to fight the coronavirus pandemic was quickly mired in political discord and collapsed in December. That government remains as caretaker.

Amid a political deadlock, parliament on Wednesday elected Isaac Herzog, a veteran politician and descendant of a prominent Israeli family, as the country’s next president.

The presidency is a largely ceremonial role meant to serve as the nation’s moral compass and promote unity.

“I intend to be president of all,” Herzog, whose late father held the same position, said after the votes were counted. “We must defend Israel’s international status and its good reputation in the family of nations, fight antisemitism and hatred of Israel, and preserve the pillars of our democracy.”

Herzog, 60, is the former head of Israel’s Labor Party and opposition leader, who unsuccessfully contested the 2015 parliamentary elections against Netanyahu.

He comes from a prominent Zionist family. His father, Chaim Herzog, was Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations before being elected president. His uncle, Abba Eban, was Israel’s first foreign minister and ambassador to the United Nations and the United States. His grandfather was the country’s first chief rabbi.

She defeated challenger Miriam Peretz by a margin of 87-26. Peretz, 67, is a prominent teacher and lecturer, famous because he lost two sons in battle during his military service. In 2018 he was awarded the Israel Prize, the country’s top award for lifetime achievement.

Herzog is set to take office next month and could play a role in Israeli politics down the road.

The president’s responsibilities include choosing the leader of the party in parliament he believes is the best chance of forming a coalition after each election. If the country is forced into a second vote, Herzog could help determine who will become prime minister.

The president also has the authority to grant pardons – making Herzog a potential key player if Netanyahu, who is on trial for multiple corruption charges, is ultimately convicted.

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