TEL AVIV – The leaders of two of Israel’s main opposition parties said they would work together on Sunday to form a coalition government. This could mean that Benjamin Netanyahu will be deposed as prime minister for the first time in 12 years.
Naftali Bennett, leader of the small religious and nationalist Yamina party, and opposition leader Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party said they had teamed up.
“For the past two years, Israel has been in a circle of elections, internal struggles without leadership,” Bennett said on a television announcement on Sunday. “This will not happen again. We can stop this and take control. There is no option for a right-wing government led by Netanyahu – it is either a change of government or a new election.”
“Nobody believes in Netanyahu anymore,” added Bennett. “At this critical moment, I say that I intend to form a government of national unity with Lapid.”
Yesh Atid said Friday that he had also reached agreements with Israel’s left-wing Meretz party. the New Hope Party, a staunch nationalist faction made up mostly of former allies of Netanyahu; and the Social Democratic Labor Party, which ruled the country for decades after the country was founded in 1948.
A minimum of 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset or parliament are required to form a majority. A 28-day mandate for Lapid to form a new government would have expired on Wednesday.
Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday that he had signed a “sweeping” proposal for Bennett and New Hope party leader Gideon Saar to “prevent the formation of a dangerous left government”. It would allow both of them to serve as prime ministers, he said.
Bennett, a former Secretary of Defense, did not comment on his announcement.
The new coalition comes just days after the armistice that ended an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in which dozens of people died.
The violence erupted in a power vacuum in Israel after an election in March – the fourth in two years – failed to produce a clear winner.
Despite repeated meetings with his rivals and unprecedented contact with the leader of a small Islamist Arab party, Netanyahu was unable to meet a deadline for forming a new ruling coalition earlier this month.
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The 71-year-old Netanyahu has been at the top since 2009, but his legal troubles in recent years have overshadowed his legacy. A major corruption lawsuit began against him last month for fraud, bribery and breach of trust. He has denied any wrongdoing and said he was the victim of a “witch hunt”.
Netanyahu is likely to remain at the head of his Likud party as the opposition leader.
Over the years he has become a divisive figure in Israeli politics, alienating a long list of former allies during his long tenure. Three parties in the last election were led by former top aides who argued with him.
The new government is is expected to be sworn in on June 8th, Reported Israel’s Channel 12 ahead of the announcement.
It was said that Bennett would serve as prime minister for the first two years and three months of the rotating government. Then Lapid would take over in September 2023 for the last two years and three months.
Paul Goldman reported from Tel Aviv, Yuliya Talmazan from London.
The Associated Press contributed.