Netanyahu’s opponents in final sprint to oust Israel’s longest-serving prime minister with only HOURS left

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Israeli politicians battling to topple veteran right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were embroiled in last-ditch talks on Wednesday to bring about their “change” coalition made up of bitter ideological rivals.

They have until the end of the day – 11:59pm (8:59pm GMT) – to craft a government that would end 12 consecutive years of rule by the hawk heavyweight, the longest-reigning prime minister from Israel.

But they are expected to announce the new lineup before the midnight deadline, as parliament meets at 11 a.m. to vote on a new president for the country, a largely honorary position.

The high-stakes government is led by former TV host Yair Lapid, a secular centrist who won crucial support from hard-line religious nationalist Naftali Bennett on Sunday.

“The coalition negotiating team has been sitting all night making progress in creating a unity government,” a Bennett spokesman said in a statement.

Israeli politicians battling to topple veteran right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were locked in last-ditch talks on Wednesday to bring about their

Israeli politicians battling to topple veteran right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were locked in last-ditch talks on Wednesday to bring about their “change” coalition made up of bitter ideological rivals.

Yair Lapid, leader of secular centrist party Yesh Atid

Naftali Bennett, leader of hardline nationalist party New Right

Yair Lapid (left) and Naftali Bennett (right) have until the end of the day to craft a government that would end 12 consecutive years of Netanyahu’s rule

To reach a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, their unlikely alliance would also have to include other left-wing and right-wing parties — and would likely require the support of Arab-Israeli politicians.

That would result in a government torn by deep ideological disagreements over trouble spots such as Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the role of religion in politics.

Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, was tasked by President Reuven Rivlin to form a government after Netanyahu again failed to assemble his own coalition after Israel’s fourth undecided election in less than two years.

Lapid has reportedly agreed to serve Bennett, a tech multimillionaire who heads the Yamina party, first as rotating prime minister in a power-sharing agreement, before swapping with him midway through their term.

In late Tuesday, a source close to the talks said AFP negotiators were hammering to “make a deal as soon as possible.”

Lawmakers elected Isaac Herzog as the 11th president since Israel’s founding in 1948 in a secret ballot on Wednesday.

Herzog, 60, is a former leader of the center-left Labor party and minister of a prominent Tel Aviv family who supports a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

He hit Myriam Peretz, 67, a settler and former headmistress commonly known as “the mother of sons” after she lost two of her six children while serving as an officer in the Israel Defense Forces.

President-elect Isaac Herzog

Presidential candidate Myriam Peretz

Lawmakers on Wednesday chose Isaac Herzog (left) as Israel’s next president in a vote. he beat Myriam Peretz (right) for the position

Netanyahu faces problems, mainly a corruption trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, which sparked protests against him (pictured)

Netanyahu faces problems, mainly a corruption trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, which sparked protests against him (pictured)

President Rivlin acknowledged in April that many believe Netanyahu is unfit to serve in light of his legal troubles

President Rivlin acknowledged in April that many believe Netanyahu is unfit to serve in light of his legal troubles

Israel’s latest political turmoil adds to the woes of Netanyahu, who faces criminal charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust while in office — charges he denies.

If he were to lose power, he would be unable to make changes to basic laws that could give him immunity, and he would lose control of certain Justice Department appointments.

The last-minute talks also follow a flare-up of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, which ended after 11 days of deadly violence with an Egypt-brokered ceasefire on May 21.

An image of Hamas missiles fired from Gaza (right) and detonations as they are intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defense system (left)

An image of Hamas missiles fired from Gaza (right) and detonations as they are intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system (left)

The night sky on May 14 lit up as rockets were fired at Israel from Beit Lahia in the Gaza Strip

The night sky on May 14 lit up as rockets were fired at Israel from Beit Lahia in the Gaza Strip

Netanyahu, who served a previous three-year term in the 1990s, had warned on Sunday of “a left-wing government that is dangerous to the State of Israel.”

The prime minister, who heads the Likud party and has built a reputation as a cunning political operator, tried to thwart the new alliance.

Likud’s lawyers on Tuesday tried to hinder the emerging coalition by challenging Bennett’s right to first serve as prime minister, as it was Lapid who was tasked with forming the government.

But the Israeli president’s legal adviser declined the challenge.

To build the anti-Netanyahu bloc, Lapid must sign individual agreements with seven parties, whose members will then vote in parliament to confirm their coalition.

They include the aggressive New Hope party of Netanyahu’s former ally Gideon Saar and the right-wing secular nationalist Avigdor Lieberman’s pro-settlement party Yisrael Beitenu.

Defense Secretary Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party, the historically powerful Labor party and the dovish Meretz party would also join.

If all those parties do indeed sign up, the nascent alliance will still need the support of four more lawmakers, which Lapid hopes will come from Mansour Abbas's (pictured) Islamist conservative Raam party.

If all those parties do indeed sign up, the nascent alliance will still need the support of four more lawmakers, which Lapid hopes will come from Mansour Abbas’s (pictured) Islamist conservative Raam party.

If all those parties do indeed sign up, the nascent alliance will still need the support of four other lawmakers.

For that, Lapid is counting on parties representing Palestinian citizens of Israel, who have yet to declare their intentions.

Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamist conservative Raam party, which has four seats, has generally opened up to any settlement that improves the living conditions of Israel’s 20 percent Arab minority of Palestinian descent.

Abbas told reporters on Tuesday that the negotiations appeared to be moving “in the right direction.”

But, he said, ‘until it is finished, nothing is finished.’

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