A former ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he would seek to form a coalition government with opponents of the Israeli leader, taking a big step towards ending the longtime prime minister’s reign.
The dramatic announcement by Naftali Bennett, leader of the small radical Yamina party, paved the way for a series of measures that could push Netanyahu and his dominant Likud party into opposition in the coming week.
As Bennett and his new partners, led by opposition leader Yair Lapid, still face obstacles, the parties appeared to be serious about reaching a deal and ending the deadlock that has plunged the country into four elections. over the past two years.
“I intend to do everything possible to form a government of national unity with my friend Yair Lapid, so that God willing we can together save the country from a fall and bring Israel back on its way. “Bennett said.
The couple have until Wednesday to strike a deal in which each is expected to serve two years as prime minister under a rotation deal, with Bennett taking the post first. Lapid’s Yesh Atid party said negotiating teams were due to meet later Sunday.
Bennett, a former senior Netanyahu aide who has held senior Cabinet positions, shares the prime minister’s tough ideology. He is a former leader of the West Bank settlement movement and heads a small party whose base includes religious and nationalist Jews. Still, he had a strained and complicated relationship with his former mentor due to personal differences.
Bennett said there was no possible way after the deadlock in the March 23 elections to form a right-wing government favored by Netanyahu. He said another election would yield the same results and said it was time to end the cycle.
“A government like this will only be successful if we work together as a group,” he said. He said everyone “will have to put off making some of their dreams come true. We will focus on what can be done, instead of fighting all day over what is impossible.”
If Bennett and Lapid and their other partners can strike a deal, it would end, at least for now, the record tenure of Netanyahu, the most dominant figure in Israeli politics for the past three decades. Netanyahu has served as prime minister for the past 12 years and also served a term prior to the late 1990s.
In his own televised statement, Netanyahu accused Bennett of betraying the Israeli right wing and urged nationalist politicians not to join what he called a “leftist government.”
“A government like this is a danger to the security of Israel, and is also a danger to the future of the state,” he said.
Despite his electoral dominance, Netanyahu has become a polarizing figure since being charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in late 2019. Each of the last four elections has been deemed a referendum. on Netanyahu’s fitness to rule, and each ended. deadlocked.
while he is on trial. He used his office as a stage to rally his base and attack police, prosecutors and the media.
To form a government, a party leader must gain the support of a 61-seat majority in the Knesset, or parliament, which has 120 seats. Since no single party controls a majority on its own, coalitions are usually built with smaller partners. Thirteen parties of varying sizes sit in the current Parliament.
As leader of the largest party, Netanyahu got the first opportunity by the country’s leading president to form a coalition. But he has not been able to secure a majority with his traditional religious and nationalist allies.
Netanyahu even attempted to woo a small Islamist Arab party, but was thwarted by a small ultranationalist party with a racist anti-Arab agenda. Although Arabs make up around 20% of Israel’s population, an Arab party has never previously sat in an Israeli coalition government.
After Netanyahu’s failure to form a government, Lapid then had four weeks to concoct a coalition. He has until Wednesday to complete the task.
While Bennett’s Yamina Party controls just seven seats in parliament, it has become something of a kingmaker, providing the support needed to secure a majority. If he succeeds, his party would be the smallest to lead an Israeli government.
Lapid has already faced a difficult challenge, given the wide range of parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc who have little in common. They include accommodating left-wing parties, a pair of right-wing nationalist parties, including Bennett’s Yamina, and most likely the United Arab Islamist list.
Lapid’s task was made even more difficult afterMay 10. Its coalition talks were suspended during the 11 days of fighting.
But as Wednesday’s deadline approaches, negotiations have shifted into high gear. Lapid has so far concluded coalition agreements with three other parties. If he finalizes a deal with Bennett, the remaining partners should fall into place quickly.
They would then have about a week to present their coalition to parliament for a formal vote of confidence to take office.
Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, said Netanyahu will try to undermine these efforts until the end.
Netanyahu’s main strategy, he said, would be to try to appeal to extremists in Bennett’s party and New Hope, another extremist party led by a former Netanyahu confidant, to withdraw their support for the news. coalition. A defection of one or two lawmakers could prevent Lapid from mustering a majority and force another election.
“Anything can happen,” Plesner said. “I would wait until the final vote is passed.”
Even if Lapid and Bennett manage to form a government, Netanyahu is unlikely to disappear, Plesner said.
Netanyahu could remain at the head of the opposition, trying to exploit the deep ideological differences between his opponents to shatter the coalition.
“History teaches us that it would be unwise to dismiss it,” he said.