Netanyahu’s opponents reach coalition deal to form government

Photo: AP Israeli left-wing protesters during a demonstration for the new government in the central Israeli city of Ramat Gan, 2 June.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents on Wednesday reached a deal to form a new governing coalition, paving the way for the ouster of the longtime Israeli leader, news wires reported. The dramatic announcement by opposition leader Yair Lapid and his main coalition partner, Naftali Bennett, came shortly before a midnight deadline and prevented what could have been Israel’s fifth consecutive election in just over two years, AP noted.

“This government will work for all the citizens of Israel, those that voted for it and those that didn’t. It will do everything to unite Israeli society,” Lapid said.

The agreement still needs to be approved by the Knesset, or parliament, in a vote that is expected to take place early next week. If it goes through, Lapid and a diverse array of partners that span the Israeli political spectrum will end Netanyahu’s record-setting but divisive 12-year rule.

Netanyahu, desperate to remain in office while he fights corruption charges, is expected to do everything possible in the coming days to prevent the new coalition from taking power. If he fails, he will be pushed into the opposition.

The deal comes at a tumultuous time for Israel, which fought an 11-day war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip last month while also experiencing mob violence between Jews and Arabs in cities across the country. The country also is emerging from a coronavirus crisis that caused deep economic damage and exposed tensions between the secular majority and the ultra-Orthodox minority.

Under the agreement, Lapid and Bennett will split the job of prime minister in a rotation. Bennett, a former ally of Netanyahu, is to serve the first two years, while Lapid is to serve the final two years — though it is far from certain their fragile coalition will last that long.

The historic deal also includes a small Islamist party, the United Arab List, which would make it the first Arab party ever to be part of a governing coalition.

In the coming days, Netanyahu is expected to continue to put pressure on hard-liners in the emerging coalition to defect and join his religious and nationalist allies. Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, may also use his influence to delay the required parliamentary vote. There was no immediate comment from Netanyahu or Likud.

Lapid called on Levin to convene the Knesset for the vote as soon as possible. In order to secure the required parliamentary majority, Lapid had to bring together eight parties that have little in common.

Their partners include a pair of dovish, left-wing parties that support Palestinian independence and three hard-line parties that oppose major concessions to the Palestinians and support West Bank settlements. Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Blue and White, a centrist party headed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and the United Arab List are the remaining members.

In order to form a government, a party leader must secure the support of a 61-seat majority in the 120-seat parliament. As leader of the largest party, Netanyahu was given the first opportunity by the country’s figurehead president to form a coalition. But he was unable to secure a majority with his traditional religious and nationalist allies.

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