Netanyahu opponents seal deal to form new government, oust longtime premier

It seems that the magician has finally run out of tricks.

Opponents of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Wednesday that they had reached an agreement to form a government and remove it from office, which in all likelihood marks the end of the veteran leader’s 12-year takeover.

Centrist lawmaker Yair Lapid said in a statement that he had informed Israeli President Reuven Rivlin that he had succeeded in forming a coalition government with Naftali Bennett, a former defense minister and former Netanyahu ally, as well as other parties.

“The government will do everything it can to unite every part of Israeli society,” Lapid told Rivlin.

Bennett, a former settler leader who shares many of Netanyahu’s harsh views and heads the small Yamina religious party, is slated to serve as prime minister for two years before handing over the reins to Lapid for two more.

Lapid, a former radio journalist, leads Israel’s second-largest party, Yesh Atid, but couldn’t cobble together enough seats without Bennett’s hard-line nationalist party Yamina.

The coalition agreement has yet to be approved by the Israeli parliament, but is expected to pass within the next week.

The deal between Israeli lawmaker Yair Lapid (left) and Naftali Bennett comes after the two leaders agreed to work together on Sunday.Uriel Sinai / Getty Images File

The breakthrough comes after Netanyahu’s dominance over Israeli politics for more than a decade and less than two weeks since he chaired a ceasefire following the country’s recent conflict with the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza.

The new government will consist of a diverse constellation that will bring together moderate left parties with right-wing nationalists in an unlikely coalition that reflects the desperation of many Israeli lawmakers across the political spectrum to block Netanyahu’s path to another term in office.

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Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, has demonstrated an unmatched ability to stay in power through conflict, corruption allegations and countless elections.

A polarizing figure for a long time, he finds himself increasingly isolated since he was charged with fraud, breach of trust and bribery in late 2019. He has been on trial since last year and has alienated many former allies and supporters who ran against him in the last election.

But while his rivals have spent the past few days frantically ending their deal to oust him before a late Wednesday deadline, Netanyahu, 71, has cursed a “fraudulent government” and done everything in his power to help them To prevent taking office.

He has also welcomed a number of US Republican MPs to his office in Jerusalem, a sign of his continued support from the American right.

Netanyahu was desperate to remain in power during the trial, but his critics say he should not be able to serve during the indictment. It is possible that a new coalition government could attempt to prevent an accused legislature from running for prime ministerial office.

The coalition government will need help from an Arab-Islamist party, the United Arab List. Although Arabs make up around 20 percent of the Israeli population, no Arab party has ever joined an Israeli coalition government.

It remains unclear how a new coalition government with such diverse views and interests can govern successfully.

Meanwhile, Isaac Herzog, a veteran politician and scion of a prominent Israeli political family, was elected president on Wednesday. The role is largely ceremonial but is intended to promote unity within Israel.

Herzog, a center-left politician, is a former leader of the Israeli Workers’ Party – home to the founding leaders of Israel and the party that later signed the groundbreaking Oslo Peace Accords with the Palestinians.

Many in Israel will hope that the Bennett-Lapid deal can end the political impasse that has plagued the country and resulted in four elections in the past two years. Each of the votes was seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s ability to govern and ended in a dead end.

In the last vote on March 23, Netanyahu’s Likud party won the most seats, but failed to secure a majority of 61 in the 120-seat Knesset or the Israeli parliament. No party in Israeli history has won an absolute majority in the Knesset, making coalitions a fact in political life.

Netanyahu was given the chance to cobble together a coalition government but could not muster enough support to break the 61-seat threshold. He even tried to court the United Arab List despite defaming Israeli Arab voters in previous elections.

The formation of a new “alternating” government would deal a symbolic and legal blow to Netanyahu, but it would not necessarily mean the end of his political career. At long last, he has lost the office of prime minister before just to come back.

Paul Goldmann and Cassandra Vinograd contributed.

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