Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that a coalition seeking to oust him “would be dangerous to the State of Israel” as the country’s longest-serving prime minister tries desperately to stay in power.
Its rivals are pushing for a unity coalition between secular, centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid, ultranationalist Naftali Bennett and other left-wing parties for a “government of change” of ideologically disparate rivals.
The deal, under which Bennett would first serve as prime minister under a rotation with Lapid, is due to close at midnight on Wednesday.
Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that a coalition seeking to oust him ‘would be dangerous to the State of Israel’
Former TV presenter Lapid’s chances of success rose when tech millionaire Bennett, despite their ideological differences, said Sunday he would join a “government of national unity” in which the two men would take turns serving as prime minister.
The latest political turmoil in Israel comes more than two months after Israel’s fourth indecisive election in less than two years.
Netanyahu, 71, is the dominant political figure of his generation and his challengers have little in common — apart from a desire to emerge from his divisive shadow and unprecedented turmoil that has led to four stalled elections in two years.
Hoping to discredit Bennett and other rightists now negotiating with Lapid, Netanyahu has accused them of committing “the fraud of the century” that he said would endanger Israel.
Lapid’s response was restrained.
“In a week’s time, the State of Israel may be in a new era. Suddenly it becomes quieter. Ministers will work without incitement, without lying, without instilling fear all the time,” he said in a televised speech.
While describing Bennett as “my friend the prime minister” and expressing hopes of a deal by Wednesday, Lapid warned: “There are still plenty of obstacles in the way of forming the new government.”
Its rivals try to build a unity coalition between secular, centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid (pictured) and ultra-nationalist Naftali Bennett
A viable anti-Netanyahu coalition would still need the support of other parties and lawmakers to secure a majority of 61 seats in the 120-member Knesset, Israel’s legislature.
The Israelis were divided on everything except the folly of writing off Netanyahu.
“Yesterday an event took place, the importance of which cannot be overestimated. A real possibility was created…an alternative government in every sense of the word,” Sima Kadmon wrote in the bestselling Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.
But she added: “It’s not over yet. Long days are looming in which Netanyahu will do absolutely everything to change the momentum.”
Netanyahu faces other problems, mainly a corruption trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies all allegations.
The veteran leader of the Likud party was first elected prime minister in 1996 and returned to power in 2009, where he held the highest office for more than a decade.
Israel Hayom, a pro-Netanyahu newspaper, described Bennett and Gideon Saar, another right-wing in conversation with Lapid, as “in the service of the left.” Netanyahu has kept the door open for them, insisting that he is still capable of forming the next government.
Lapid, 57, is trying to form a diverse alliance with Bennett, a proponent of Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as well as Arab-Israeli lawmakers.
The deal, which would see Bennett (pictured) first serve as prime minister under a rotation with Lapid, is due to close at midnight on Wednesday.
To build such an anti-Netanyahu bloc, he must sign individual agreements with seven parties, whose members then vote in parliament to confirm the coalition.
Among them are the centrist Blue and White party of Defense Secretary Benny Gantz and the aggressive New Hope party of Netanyahu’s former ally Gideon Saar.
Avigdor Lieberman’s pro-settlement party Yisrael Beitenu, as well as the historically powerful center-left Labor Party and the moderate Meretz Party are also said to join.
Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party won 30 seats in the latest election on March 23, the best result of any party but far from a majority.
In a final bid on Sunday, Netanyahu offered his rivals Bennett and Saar a triple power-sharing agreement, but Saar declined.
If Bennett and Lapid miss Wednesday’s deadline, parliament could elect a candidate for a new coalition. If that fails, the country will go to a fifth election.
Lapid’s party, with 17 seats of its own, had gathered a total of 51 votes from left, center and right parties before Bennett joined him.
Bennett’s Yamina (‘Right’) bloc has seven seats, but a lawmaker swore he would not cooperate with the anti-Netanyahu camp.
Netanyahu faces problems, mainly a corruption trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, which sparked protests against him (pictured)
To gain the support of four more legislators needed to secure the required 61 seats, Lapid is counting on parties representing Israel’s Arab citizens, who have not yet announced their intentions.
They should support a coalition with Bennett, even though he has previously headed the Yesha Council, which represents the Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank.
“The left is far from making easy compromises here,” Bennett admitted on Sunday.
However, a source briefed on the Bennett-Lapid power-sharing talks, which also involved liberal and center-left parties, said “significant progress” had been made towards a final deal, adding: “There is much more that unites then separates. ‘
Bennett, a former defense secretary, and Lapid, a former finance minister, both want to invest in education and health care and avoid the economic slump caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the new coalition is likely to represent a stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with clear policy differences between coalition partners.
Bennett has favored Israel’s annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank, while his future left-wing allies may argue for the ceding of territory to the Palestinians.
The source briefed on the talks indicated that Bennett and Lapid had agreed to sidestep the matter: “There will be no annexation, there will be no withdrawals of final status.”
“Final status” is a diplomatic term for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, whose negotiations stalled in 2014.
Israel’s financial markets were largely unchanged on Monday, with the shekel holding steady at 3.25 per dollar.
Once a coalition is formed, investors expect a 2021 state budget to be passed. Due to the two-year political deadlock, Israel is using a pro-rata version of the 2019 budget, which was approved in mid-2018.