Jerusalem, Unidentified: Yair Lapid, the leader of Israel’s opposition, announced that he has formed a broad-based coalition to depose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving leader.
If the 120-member Knesset approves it in the coming days, it will put an end to the long reign of Bibi, the extreme right-wing leader who has long controlled Israeli politics.
Lapid’s announcement came late Wednesday, an hour before a midnight deadline, after marathon talks with a collection of parties from all sides of the political spectrum who were united solely in their determination to depose Netanyahu.
“I succeeded,” Lapid, a former TV news anchor, wrote on Facebook. “I promise that this government will work in the service of all of the citizens of Israel, those who voted for it and those who did not.”
In a two-year rotation, right-wing nationalist tech millionaire Naftali Bennett, 49, would serve as a prime minister first, with Lapid taking over after two years.
“With the help of God we will do together what is good for Israel and we’ll get Israel back on track,” Bennett told Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin after Lapid had informed Rivlin of their coalition.
BREAKING: Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid announces that he has successfully formed a government to replace Netanyahu. Official statement: pic.twitter.com/wQGoF53JQP
— Yair Rosenberg (@Yair_Rosenberg) June 2, 2021
The opposition leader and his allies now have at least a week until parliamentarians must vote to confirm their government, a time when Netanyahu and his Likud party are expected to do everything possible to thwart it.
If last-minute defections derail the “change” alliance, Israel will have to hold yet another election, the sixth in less than two years.
Following Netanyahu’s failure to create his own coalition following the March elections, the fourth inconclusive vote in less than two years, Lapid was tasked with creating a government.
The Jerusalem Post wrote in an editorial that the coalition’s “hard part is just beginning,” but that it “has a potential to actually change Israel for the better” after years of political upheaval.
The agreement reached Wednesday night adds to Netanyahu’s troubles since he faces criminal charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust while in office, all of which he denies.
If he loses power, he will lose influence over some justice ministry appointments and will be unable to push through amendments to basic legislation that may grant him impunity.
The prime minister, who also spent a three-year term in the 1990s, has long been Israel’s most powerful figure and is close to former US President Donald Trump.
Netanyahu signed historic rapprochement agreements with four Arab states and launched the Covid-19 vaccine campaign, which was a major success.
He has not, however, held real peace talks with Palestinians, who are enraged by Israel’s growing authority over the territory they want for a future state.
Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians reached a breaking point last month, resulting in a deadly 11-day exchange of rocket fire from Gaza and catastrophic Israeli airstrikes.
Netanyahu defiantly condemned the alliance against him as “the fraud of the century” last Sunday, warning that it would result in “a left-wing government dangerous to the state of Israel”.
It’s right down to the wire.
Last Sunday, Lapid, the leader of the secular centrist party Yesh Atid, received significant backing from Bennett, the leader of the Yamina “Rightward” party.
Lapid had to negotiate separate agreements with seven parties to form the anti-Netanyahu group.
They include Netanyahu’s erstwhile friend Gideon Saar’s hawkish New Hope party and Avigdor Lieberman’s right-wing secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu.
Labor, the dovish Meretz party, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party are also part of the coalition. Gantz unsuccessfully opposed Netanyahu in three previous elections.
Gantz traveled to Washington on Thursday for pre-scheduled talks on Iran with US officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, which he described as a “night of great hope.”
The Arab Israeli Islamic conservative party Raam has also joined the change alliance, with its leader Mansour Abbas announcing his membership late Wednesday in order to obtain money and policies that assist Israel’s 20% Palestinian minority.
“I just signed an agreement with Yair Lapid so that he can declare that he can form a government after reaching… agreements on various issues that serve the interest of Arab society,” he said.
In the 1990s, several Arab parliamentarians supported former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin from outside his coalition, but Abbas was the first Arab politician in Israel to actively negotiate for a seat in the coalition, according to political analyst Afif Abu Much.
Other politicians representing Israel’s Arab inhabitants voiced their opposition to Bennett’s cabinet, which is a staunch backer of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, according to Abu Much.
With AFP inputs.