JERUSALEM – Naftali Bennett, who heads a small right-wing party, and Yair Lapid, the centrist leader of the Israeli opposition, have joined forces to try to form a diverse coalition that would overthrow Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
Covering Israel’s divided political spectrum from left to right, and drawing on the support of a small Arab and Islamist party, the proposed coalition, dubbed the “government of change” by its supporters, could mark a profound change for Israel.
After a stalemate that led to four inconclusive elections in two years, and an even longer period of political polarization and government paralysis, the architects of the coalition vowed to get Israel back on track.
It’s unclear if they can form a government, toppling Mr. Netanyahu, a crafty political survivor who fundamentally reshaped Israeli politics, before Wednesday’s midnight deadline. So does the question of what change the “change of government” might bring when some of the parties agree on little other than enmity towards Mr. Netanyahu.
Here are some basics of the political upheavals that could emerge from Israel’s long standoff.
Who is outside and who is inside?
The biggest potential loser to date is Mr. Netanyahu and his conservative Likud party, which is by far the largest, winning 30 seats in the last 120 parliamentary elections. Two ultra-Orthodox parties that are his most loyal allies are also said to be out of government.
But even though Mr. Netanyahu faces the most serious challenge to his leadership in years, he remains center stage. He earned the nickname “magician” for a reason: his ability to get out of tight corners.
He has ruled Israel for a total of 15 years, including the past 12, and has resolutely shifted Israeli politics to the right.
Mr. Bennett is considered to be even more to the right. While Mr. Netanyahu lost interest in the idea of a two-state solution, Mr. Bennett, a religiously practicing champion of Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, openly rejects the concept of a sovereign Palestinian state and advocated for it. annexation of West Bank territory. Yet even though the coalition will include several parties who disagree on these two issues, they have agreed to allow Bennett to become prime minister first.
Although the party of Mr. Bennett, a former high-tech entrepreneur and defense minister, won just seven seats in the March election, his modest electoral gains were enough to make him a mainstay of any future coalition, and he leveraged his power with both sides in an attempt to negotiate his way to the post superior.
If the coalition deal holds, Bennett would be replaced for the second part of the four-year term by Mr. Lapid, who advocates secular middle-class Israelis and whose party won 17 seats. Mr. Lapid said from the start that he was prepared to make personal sacrifices to fire Mr. Netanyahu.
Moreover, by conceding the first turn in the rotation, Mr Lapid, who has been called a dangerous leftist by his right-wing opponents, allowed other right-wing politicians to join the new anti-Netanyahu alliance.
In a measure of the twists and turns of the plot behind this political turnaround, Mr Bennett pledged before the election not to allow a Lapid government of any kind or a government dependent on the Islamist party, called Raam. .
The coalition would rise or fall on cooperation between eight relatively small parties with heterogeneous ideologies and, on many issues, conflicting agendas.
In a televised address on Sunday night, Mr Bennett said he was determined to promote national unity.
“Two thousand years ago there was a Jewish state that fell here because of internal quarrels,” he said. “It won’t happen again. Not in my custody.”
Mr Lapid has until midnight Wednesday to inform President Reuven Rivlin that he has succeeded in concocting a viable coalition. Once he makes the announcement, he has up to seven days to present the government to Parliament for a vote of confidence.
Still, some disagreements over ministerial appointments were ironed out less than two days before the deadline. And with the fate of the new coalition depending on a narrow margin and hanging on every vote, his partners were rushing to complete the deal, aware that Mr. Netanyahu and his associates were on the hunt for potential defectors.
“There are still a lot of obstacles in the way of forming the new government,” Lapid said on Monday. “Maybe that’s a good thing because we’ll have to overcome them together. This is our first test.
Can the coalition get along?
The coalition formed by Mr. Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party, and Mr. Bennett, who heads Yamina, is expected to include several disparate parties. They include the secular left-wing Meretz party, which has not been in government for 20 years, and New Hope, led by Gideon Saar, which has split from Likud but continues to support a right-wing agenda.
Meretz, led by Nitzan Horowitz, opposes Jewish colonization in the occupied territories and supports the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the separation of religion and state. New Hope supports judicial reform, settlement expansion, the eventual annexation of parts of the West Bank, and opposition to any future Palestinian state alongside Israel.
But instead of trying to tackle those issues that have long divided Israeli society the most, leaders of the so-called Coalition for Change have indicated that they will avoid them, at least for the first year.
Mr Horowitz, of Meretz, said he believed there was “a basis for working together” by sticking to more practical and technocratic issues such as some of the country’s long neglected infrastructure.
One of the first tasks of a new government would be to adopt a late state budget for 2021.
Many Israeli political analysts have said the main cement of the coalition is the common desire to impeach Mr. Netanyahu and warn that once that is achieved it may not last long.
Is this an opening for the Arab parties?
One of the most unlikely kingmakers involved in making up this coalition is Mansour Abbas, the leader of the small Arab party known by its Hebrew acronym, Raam, with four seats in the current parliament.
While Raam is unlikely to play a formal role in a Lapid-Bennett coalition, their government would count on Raam’s support to pass a vote of confidence and be able to control parliament. Some Arab lawmakers played a similar role in supporting Yitzhak Rabin’s government from outside in the 1990s.
Traditionally, Arab parties have not been directly involved in Israeli governments – they have been mostly shunned by other parties and are reluctant to join a government that oversees Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its military actions. .
But after decades of political marginalization, many Palestinian citizens, who make up one-fifth of Israel’s population, have sought fuller integration.
Raam is willing to work with pro and anti-Netanyahu camps since the March elections and use his influence to wrest concessions from the Arab public.
Amid the recent fighting in Gaza and the outbreak of Arab-Jewish violence in Israel, many analysts had predicted that it would be more difficult for Raam to play a central role. But the party never ruled out a deal once calm returned.
Where would that leave Netanyahu?
If the Lapid-Bennett coalition is installed, Mr. Netanyahu risks becoming the leader of the opposition again, a post he held before the 2009 elections.
A standing trial for corruption, he would likely be denied any opportunity to make changes that would allow him some sort of parliamentary immunity. Mr. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and said the cases against him will fail in court.
But his political future is in jeopardy. A majority against him in parliament could pass a law limiting the number of terms for a prime minister or prohibiting any candidate accused of crimes from running for office.
Mr. Netanyahu, for his part, has made it clear that he intends to continue fighting.
“It is not unity, healing or democracy,” Netanyahu said of the coalition formed against him. “It is an opportunist government. A government of capitulation, a government of fraud, a government of inertia. A government like this should not be formed.