Netanyahu could lose office as rivals join hands to form govt

Netanyahu could lose office as rivals join hands to form govt

Jerusalem: Israel could be headed for a break from the "Bibi-regime" as several former allies of longest-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seem to have joined hands with political opponents to form a national-unity government that would not only have political formations from the Left, the Centre and the Right, but may also be supported by an Arab party.

In a dramatic development, a former ally of Netanyahu announced on Sunday that he intends to form a national-unity government to "stop the craziness" of more elections and continued political deadlock to put "Israel back on track".

Naftali Bennett, leader of the small hardline Yamina party, who in the past served as Netanyahu's Chief of Staff and as a minister with various portfolios over the years including defence, made it clear that he was going to negotiate a coalition deal with opposition leader Yair Lapid, given that there was no possibility of a right-wing government.'

Getting unseated from premiership at this juncture would be a huge blow for Netanyahu, popularly nicknamed Bibi, as his trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust picks up steam in Jerusalem's District Court.

The 71-year-old, who has dominated Israeli politics for a generation, has dismissed the charges as a politically motivated witch-hunt, aimed at toppling his premiership.

As Prime Minister, Netanyahu has been accused of assailing the courts, attorneys-general and police investigators, accusing them of bias. As leader of the Opposition, his ability to maneuver court proceedings would wane significantly.

Bennett, whose support base consists primarily of hardliners drawn from religious and nationalist Jews, has for months weighed-in the option of risking his political future by getting into this new alignment or "take responsibility" and lead a government of national-unity.

"At such a crucial moment, responsibility must be taken. Therefore, I am announcing today that I intend to act with all my strength to form a national-unity government together with my friend Yair Lapid so that, God Willing, together we will rescue the country from this tailspin, and we will get Israel back on track, Bennett, 49, said on Sunday.

"Yair and I disagree on a number of issues of substance. But we are partners in our love for the country and willingness to work for the sake of the country," he asserted, in what was the first clear indication coming from him of having taken a decision after vacillating between options.

Informed sources said that the "path forward is not easy" in getting a coalition of diverse ideologies together but "all the sides look serious in their intent" to end the political deadlock which has seen the country go through an unprecedented four elections in two years and still stares at the possibility of a fifth one if discussions fail.

A government like this will succeed only if we work together as a group. Everyone will need to postpone fulfilling part of their dreams. We will focus on what can be done, instead of fighting all day on what's impossible, Bennett stressed in hisannouncement.

Interestingly, almost one-third of the lawmakers supporting the ouster of Netanyahu can be seen as his "natural allies" and are being led by leaders who are "friends turned foes" of the Prime Minister.

"If Netanyahu had acted with a bit more consideration toward his right-wing partners, if he had avoided sinking into bitter disputes with people like Avigdor Lieberman, Gideon Sa'ar, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, he could have retained their loyalty.

Netanyahu is now paying for the contempt with which he and his supporters treated all of the above," a political analyst for daily Ha'aretz commented on Monday.

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