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World

Israel's Lapid says he formed new coalition to unseat Netanyahu

  • Gantz, who tweeted it was a "night of great hope," headed to Washington for pre-scheduled talks Thursday on Iran with US officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
03 Jun 2021

JERUSALEM: Israel's opposition leader Yair Lapid said he had succeeded in forming a broad-based coalition to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the country's longest-serving leader.

Should it be confirmed by the 120-member Knesset legislature in the coming days, it would end the long reign of the hawkish right-wing leader known as Bibi, who has long dominated Israeli politics.

Lapid's announcement late Wednesday came in the final hour before a midnight deadline, following marathon negotiations with a group of parties spanning the political spectrum, united only in their desire to oust 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."

The right-wing nationalist tech millionaire Naftali Bennett, 49, would serve first as prime minister in a rotation agreement, with Lapid to take 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.

The opposition leader and his partners now have at least a week before lawmakers must vote to confirm their government -- a period during which Netanyahu and his Likud party are expected to try to do what they can to prevent it.

Should last-minute defections scupper the "change" alliance, Israel would likely have to hold yet another election, the fifth in just over two years.

Down to the wire

Lapid, who heads the secular centrist party Yesh Atid, last Sunday won the crucial support of Bennett, head of the Yamina "Rightward" party.

To build the anti-Netanyahu bloc, Lapid had to sign individual agreements with seven parties.

They include the hawkish New Hope party of Netanyahu's former ally Gideon Saar, and right-wing secular nationalist Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party.

Also part of the alliance are the Labor party, the dovish Meretz party, and the centrist Blue and White party of Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who unsuccessfully challenged Netanyahu in three previous votes.

Gantz, who tweeted it was a "night of great hope," headed to Washington for pre-scheduled talks Thursday on Iran with US officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The change alliance also includes the Arab Israeli Islamic conservative party Raam, whose head Mansour Abbas late Wednesday announced that he had joined in order to secure funding and policies to benefit Israel's 20 percent minority of Palestinian descent.

Other Arab lawmakers supported the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin from outside his coalition in the 1990s, but Abbas was the first Arab politician in Israel to openly bargain for a role in the coalition, said political analyst Afif Abu Much.

Abu Much noted that lawmakers with other parties representing Arab citizens of Israel announced they would oppose the government headed by Bennett, a strong supporter of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.