Netanyahu’s rivals agree to form new government to overthrow Israeli leader
TEL AVIV — Rivals of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have agreed to form a coalition government that would oust the country’s longest-serving leader, a major political upheaval as the nation seeks to protect a fragile truce with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
If the government were sworn in within the next two weeks, Mr. Netanyahu would cede power to the most diverse coalition in Israel’s history, including for the first time an independent Arab party. Yair Lapid, who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party, and Naftali Bennett, who heads the right-wing Yamina party, will team up with six other parties, including one of the Israeli Arab parties, the Raam, according to a statement from Mr Lapid.
“The government will do all it can to unite all parts of Israeli society,” Lapid said Wednesday evening.
Mr. Lapid briefed the Israeli president on his plan to form a government, the statement said.
By law, parliament has around 12 days to take the government oath after Mr. Lapid informs the president.
Mr Netanyahu may still try to undo the coalition deal during this period by convincing enough right-wing lawmakers to vote against the new government.
The deal comes days after Mr Bennett made public his intention to join Mr Lapid in a coalition.
The two leaders would take turns leading the government, with Bennett first serving as prime minister for two years, followed by Lapid, who would first serve as foreign minister.
“With God’s help, we will do what is good for Israel and get it back on track,” Bennett told the Israeli president during a phone call with Mr. Lapid, according to a video of the scene released. by Mr. Bennett’s party. .
Blue and White’s Benny Gantz would be defense minister, New Hope’s Gideon Saar would be justice minister, Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman would be finance minister and Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked would be home minister, said officials involved in the talks.
Outside the hotel where negotiations between the parties took place near Tel Aviv, hundreds of people gathered across the street to express their support or opposition to the potential new government. , according to television images.
Parties will need to put aside their ideological differences on key issues as the coalition attempts to resuscitate an economy hit by Covid-19 lockdowns while keeping Israelis safe amid heightened tensions with Hamas. Fighting between Israel and Hamas last month killed 256 Palestinians, including 66 children, and 12 people in Israel, including two children.
Mr Lapid received the mandate after Mr Netanyahu failed to form a government following an inconclusive election in March, the country’s fourth since 2019.
Mr. Bennett controls seven seats in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, against 17 for Mr. Lapid. But right-wing Jewish Israelis who previously supported Mr. Netanyahu’s governments may find him a more politically acceptable candidate for prime minister.
Mr Bennett’s Yamina party released a video celebrating the deal. “We are coming out of the [election] loop [and] the establishment of a government. Do you support unity? Then listen to it from yourself, ”the video said.
MM. Bennett and Lapid have faced a difficult task in forming a coalition out of a group of rivals, some of whom are united only in their desire to replace Mr Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption. He denies any wrongdoing.
Mr Netanyahu’s case is ongoing and analysts have said he is in a better position to face the charges while remaining prime minister. Outside the office, he will be unable to advance legislation or make appointments that could protect him from charges.
Ahead of Wednesday’s deadline, supporters of Mr. Netanyahu, including lawmakers from his right-wing Likud party, have done everything they can to convince some right-wing lawmakers to abandon the future coalition, according to people familiar with the matter.
The defection of only one or two lawmakers can prevent the new coalition from mustering a majority and force another election.
Mr. Netanyahu enjoys the support of Israel’s right-wing and religious voters, which has helped him maintain a continued grip on power since 2009.
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He was also prime minister for three years in the 1990s. He described the new coalition as a dangerous, left-wing government that would not be able to confront Iran or meet other security challenges. .
“Do not form a left government. Such a government is a danger to Israel’s security and a danger to the future of our country, ”Netanyahu said.
He is expected to become the leader of the opposition, but could face leadership challenges from other members of his Likud party who have been frustrated by his repeated failures to form a government. He overcame such a challenge from a former protégé, Gideon Saar, at the end of 2019.
But as more lawmakers soured the idea of working with an indicted prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu ran out of options.
“He really succeeded in creating in Likud an atmosphere of deterrence against criticism, and so until they not only smell the blood but see it, no one will break Likud,” said Emmanuel Navon, science professor. politicians at Tel Aviv University and a former Likud member.
The liberal daily Haaretz published an op-ed on Tuesday with the headline “Stop the Insanity”.
“There is a desperate need to replace a dangerous leader who is doing great damage to the country,” he said.
If they can take an oath to the government, MM. Bennett and Lapid face the challenge of keeping their factional government together for more than a few months – or returning to another election.
Mr Bennett, 49, is a former Israeli military commando who later co-founded an anti-fraud software company and made millions of dollars from its sale. He is also a former Minister of Defense and Education as well as a former aide to Mr. Netanyahu. While he was defense minister, he chaired Israel’s first coronavirus lockdown, an effort that was initially viewed as a success. Israel’s cases then skyrocketed after Mr. Netanyahu decided to reopen the economy, but Mr. Bennett was no longer in government at the time.
The parties of the emerging coalition agree on little: some want to engage with the Palestinians, while others want to continue annexing the West Bank. They also disagree over Israel’s justice system, with some opposing a more liberal role for the courts and others taking a broader view of what the powers of the courts should be.
A new government will need to take action to stimulate economic growth while bringing the pandemic under control.
Meanwhile, a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza ruler Hamas, after 11 days of intense fighting, remains fragile, as both sides attempt to consolidate their gains. Egypt is mediating indirect talks between Israel and Hamas over longer-term ceasefire agreements.
The conflict was the worst since the last of the three wars in 2014 and seemed to save Mr. Netanyahu’s position for some time. But after reaching an unconditional truce, talks between his political rivals resumed.
Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party won the most seats in the last election — 30 — but failed to unite Israel’s right-wing and religious parties around it or make some of them work. with an Islamist party so that he can keep control.
—Dov Lieber contributed to this article.
Write to Felicia Schwartz at [email protected]
Corrections and amplifications
Rivals of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have agreed to form a new government to oust him. A previous headline incorrectly read: “Israel’s Netanyahu ousted as prime minister as rivals form coalition government.” (Corrected June 2.)
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