Netanyahu’s opponents scramble to form Israeli government as deadline looms

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Netanyahu’s Opponents Scramble To Form Israeli Government As Deadline Looms
Naftali Bennett, left, speaks to Yair Lapid, © AP/Press Association Images
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By Ilan Ben Zion, Associated Press

Opponents of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s are scrambling to finalise a coalition government that would end his 12-year rule.

Centrist Yair Lapid and ultranationalist Naftali Bennett have joined forces and agreed to rotate the premiership between them, with Mr Bennett going first.

But they are still working to cobble together a ruling coalition that would include parties from across the political spectrum ahead of a midnight (local time) deadline.


Yair Lapid faces a midnight deadline (Debbie Hill/Pool via AP)

Israeli media reported there are some lingering disagreements over lower-level political appointments.

According to the reports, Ayelet Shaked, Mr Bennett’s deputy, is demanding a place on a committee that chooses the nation’s judges.

But Ms Shaked, a prominent voice in Israel’s hard-line right wing, has expressed misgivings about joining forces with the dovish members of the emerging coalition.

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Both Ms Shaked and Mr Bennett have come under heavy pressure from Mr Netanyahu and the country’s right wing base not to join his opponents. The Knesset, or parliament, has assigned additional security guards to both in recent days because of death threats and online incitement.


Naftali Bennett would become PM first under the proposed agreement (Yonatan Sindel/Pool via AP)

Mr Lapid must inform Israel’s largely ceremonial president, Reuven Rivlin, by midnight that he has formed a majority coalition of at least 61 seats in the Knesset. The assembly would then have a week to hold a vote of confidence.

If Mr Lapid misses the deadline, the country will almost certainly have a fifth election in just over two years, and Mr Netanyahu would have yet another chance to hold onto his position as he stands trial for corruption.

Mr Netanyahu’s Likud won the most seats in the March 23 election, but he was unable to form a majority with his traditional religious and nationalist allies.

Crucially, a far-right party allied with Mr Netanyahu refused to join forces with a small Arab party that emerged as one of the kingmakers in the race.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Yonatan Sindel/Pool via AP)

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Mr Netanyahu had hoped to extend his long rule and battle the corruption charges from the prime minister’s office. He has emerged as a deeply polarising force in recent years, leaving Israel in a prolonged state of political limbo through a series of inconclusive elections.

An emergency government formed last year between Mr Netanyahu and former military chief Benny Gantz to battle the coronavirus pandemic quickly became mired in political bickering and collapsed in December. That government remains in place as a caretaker.

Amid the political deadlock, parliament elected Isaac Herzog, a veteran politician from a prominent Israeli family, as the country’s next president.

The presidency is a largely ceremonial role that is meant to serve as the nation’s moral compass and promote unity.

“I intend to be the president of everyone,” Mr Herzog, whose late father held the same position, said after the votes were tallied. “We must defend Israel’s international status and its good reputation in the family of nations, fight anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel, and preserve the pillars of our democracy.”

Mr Herzog, 60, is a former head of Israel’s Labour Party and opposition leader who unsuccessfully ran against Mr Netanyahu in the 2015 parliamentary elections.

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