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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be ousted after rivals Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid agree to work on unity government


Naftali Bennett, leader of the small right-wing Yamina party, announced on Sunday evening that he was working on a coalition deal with Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, to join a new government.

It is a seismic event in Israeli politics, and if the coalition is sworn in, it would end Netanyahu’s 12 years as prime minister.

In a prime-time speech on Sunday, Bennett told the Israelis he was joining the new government to prevent a fifth round of elections and “save the country from the spin.”

“After four elections and two more months, it has been proven to all of us that there is simply no possible right-wing government led by Netanyahu. This is either a fifth election or a unity government, ”Bennett said.

He rejected suggestions that the coalition, which would include a wide range of parties, would be a left-wing government, instead paying tribute to the willingness of potential coalition partners to allow him to become the leader of Israel.

“The left is making difficult compromises to allow me … to become prime minister,” he said, adding: “This government will not disengage and cede territory, and will not be afraid to launch military operation if necessary. “

Shortly after Bennett spoke, Netanyahu made his own statement in which he denounced party leader Yamina as a man who cared for nothing but becoming prime minister.

Reminding Israelis that ahead of the March election Bennett had said he would not sit in a government led by Lapid, Netanyahu said his right-wing rival’s principles did not have the weight of a feather.

Bennett was trying to pull off “the deception of the century,” Netanyahu said.

It is widely expected that any unity deal would see the prime minister’s post run with Bennett first and Lapid second.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be ousted after rivals Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid agree to work on unity government

It’s an unusual arrangement, made unique by the fact that Bennett’s party won just seven seats in the last election. But his party became one of the kingmakers in Israeli politics, as Netanyahu and the pro-change bloc tried to woo Bennett, needing his seven seats to bring them closer to the 61-seat majority needed to form a government in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

The coalition “for change” will likely be made up of right-to-left Israeli political parties, but it would almost certainly still need some sort of external support to reach the 61-seat threshold. This support can come from outside the government, such as one of the Arab parties, most likely the Islamist United Arab List, led by Mansour Abbas.

And there may not be much that unites such a wide range of parties except in their desire to oust Netanyahu. With pressing questions such as how to maintain the ceasefire with Hamas militants in Gaza and rising tensions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, this could be a fragile government easily shattered by ideological divisions.

Lapid must now reach and sign formal coalition agreements with all parties before announcing his coalition, first to the President of Israel and then to the Speaker of the Knesset.

Parliament then has a week to vote on the coalition arrangements before the new government and a new Israeli prime minister can be sworn in.

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