Opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Wednesday that they had reached an agreement to form a new governing coalition, paving the way for the removal of the longtime Israeli leader.
Dramatic announcement of opposition leader yair lapidy and their main coalition partners, Naftali Bennett, came shortly before the midnight deadline and prevented the country from sinking into its fifth consecutive election in two years.
“This government will work for all the citizens of Israel who voted for it and those who did not. It will do everything to unite Israeli society,” Lapid said.
Under the agreement, Lapid and Bennett would take turns sharing the prime minister’s job. Bennett will have to serve the first two years while Lapid will have to serve the last two years. The historic deal also included a smaller Islamist party, the United Arab List, which would make it the first Arab party to be part of a governing coalition.
The agreement still needs to be approved by the Knesset, or parliament, in a vote due early next week. If it proceeds, the lapid and a diverse array of partners that extend Israel The political spectrum would end Netanyahu’s 12-year record-setting regime.
netanyahuDesperate to stay in office while fighting corruption charges, is expected to do everything possible to prevent the new coalition from taking power in the coming days. If he fails, he will be pushed into the opposition.
Netanyahu has attempted to pressure hardliners and join his religious and nationalist allies in the emerging coalition. Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, could also use his influence to delay the required parliamentary vote.
Lapid called on Levin to call the Knesset for a vote as soon as possible.
Netanyahu has been the most prominent player in Israeli politics over the past three decades – serving as prime minister since 2009 in addition to an earlier term in the late 1990s.
Despite a long list of achievements, including last year’s important diplomatic agreements with four Arab countries, he has become a polarizing figure since being indicted in 2019 on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes.
Each of the last four elections was seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s fitness to rule. And each ended in a stalemate with Netanyahu’s supporters falling short of a majority of his secular, Arab and Dosh opponents. A unity government formed last year with his main rival collapsed after just six months.
The new deal requires a reshuffle of Israel’s political group. The three parties are led by staunch allies of Netanyahu, who had personal feuds with them, while the United Arab List made history as a kingmaker, taking advantage of it to shore up the country’s Arab minority.
“This is the first time an Arab party is participating in government formation,” party leader Mansoor Abbas told reporters. “There are many things in this agreement for the benefit of Arab society and Israeli society in general.”
Lapid, 57, entered parliament in 2013 after a successful career as a newspaper columnist, TV anchor and author. His new Yes Atid party launched a successful rookie campaign, in which Lapid got the powerful post of finance minister.
But he and Netanyahu did not meet, and the alliance quickly broke up. Yash Atid has been in the opposition since the 2015 election. The party is popular with secular, middle-class voters and has criticized Netanyahu’s close ties with ultra-conservative parties and said the prime minister should step down during his trial on corruption charges.
Bennett, meanwhile, is a former top ally of Netanyahu, whose small Yamina party caters to religious and nationalist hardliners. Bennett was a successful high-tech entrepreneur and leader of the West Bank settler movement before entering politics.
It is not certain that their alliance will last that long. To achieve the required parliamentary majority, Lapid had to bring together eight parties that have little in common.
His allies range from Dovish, a pair of left-wing parties that support broad concessions to Palestinians to three hard-line parties that oppose Palestinian independence and support West Bank settlements. Yes Atid and Blue and White of Lapid, a centrist party headed by the Defense Minister Benny Gantzo, and the remaining members of the United Arab List.
Coalition members are hoping their shared animosity with Netanyahu, with the agreement that another election should be avoided, will provide enough impetus to find some common ground.
“Today, we succeeded. We made history,” said Dovish Labor Party leader Merav Micheli.
Negotiations fizzled out, with Labor and Yamina quarreling over the formation of a parliamentary committee.
Earlier this week, when Bennett said he would engage in coalition talks, he said everyone would have to compromise and give up parts of his dreams. During the recent election campaign, Bennett publicly vowed not to share power with Lapid or an Arab party. But faced with the prospect of another unwanted election, Bennett, like the others, found resilience.
To form a government, a party leader must have the support of a 120-seat Knesset or a 61-seat majority in parliament. Since no single party controls the majority on its own, coalitions are usually formed with smaller partners. There are thirteen parties of various sizes in the present Parliament.
As the leader of the largest party, Netanyahu was given the first chance by the country’s premier president to form a coalition. But he was unable to win a majority with his traditional religious and nationalist allies.
Netanyahu, who has raged against Israel’s Arab minorities in the past, also attempted to bring the United Arab List to court, but was thwarted by a smaller ultranationalist party.
After Wednesday’s announcement of the coalition deal, religious Zionists from that party angrily accused Bennett of betraying Israel’s right-wing.
“We will not forget and we will not forgive,” said Bezel Smotrich, the leader of the religious Zionists.
After Netanyahu’s failure to form a government, Lapid was given four weeks to form a coalition. That window was about to end at midnight.
Lapid already faced a formidable challenge in bringing together such a disparate group of partners. but then the war broke out Hamas extremists in Gaza Strip on 10 May. Fighting, along with Arab-Jewish mob violence in Israeli cities during the war, halted coalition talks.
But after a ceasefire on 21 May, negotiations resumed, and Lapid rushed to strike a deal. He reached a breakthrough on Sunday when Bennett, a former ally of Netanyahu, agreed to join the opposition coalition.
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