Netanyahu's rivals reach coalition deal to oust him

Netanyahus rivals reach coalition deal to oust him

Jerusalem: Israel's Opposition parties have finally clinched a last-minute agreement to form a new national unity government and oust Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest-serving prime minister in the Jewish nation's history.

Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, announced an eight-party coalition had been formed.

Under a rotation arrangement, the head of the right-wing Yamina party, Naftali Bennett, 49, would serve as the prime minister first before handing over to Lapid.

Lapid, 57, officially informed President Reuven Rivlin and Knesset (Parliament) Speaker Yariv Levin about the deal late Wednesday night, barely half an hour before the Wednesday midnight deadline.

The announcement came after a series of back-to-back meetings with the leaders of the anti-Netanyahu camp in the Knesset.

"In accordance with Clause 13(b) of the Basic Law: The Government I am honoured to inform you that I have succeeded in forming a government. The government will be an alternate government in accordance with Clause 13(a) of the Basic Law: The Government, and MK (Member of Knesset) Naftali Bennett will serve as a prime minister first, Lapid told Rivlin.

"I commit to you Mr President that this government will work to serve all the citizens of Israel including those who aren't members of it, will respect those who oppose it and do everything in its power to unite all parts of Israeli society," the Yesh Atid party leader said.

Lapid will serve as foreign minister until the two men swap roles halfway through the term.

There still needs to be a parliamentary vote before the government is sworn in.

Lapid called upon the Speaker to fulfil the legal responsibility incumbent upon him and call a special session of the plenary as soon as possible.

The Israeli president thanked Lapid saying, I congratulate you and the heads of the parties on your agreement to form a government. We expect the Knesset will convene as soon as possible to ratify the government, as required.

The development, seen by some as historic as it includes an Arab party in the coalition, will break an ongoing political impasse that has seen Israel go through four polls yielding inconclusive results in less than two years.

Lapid's coalition is composed of Yesh Atid, Yamina, Kahol Lavan, New Hope, Labor, Yisrael Beiteinu, Meretz and United Arab List.

If successful in passing the floor test in the Knesset, the new government would save the country from the ignominious spectre of a fifth election since April 2019.

Sources point to some unresolved issues, but not too dramatic, which if sorted out could also mean a break from the "Bibi-regime", the nickname for the incumbent prime minister who has been at the helm of Israeli politics uninterrupted for the last 12 years.

Netanyahu, 71, holds the record of being the longest-serving Israeli prime minister, surpassing founding father Ben-Gurion, as he also served a term between 1996 and 1999.

His ouster also results from the coming together of some "friends turned foes" who were ideologically closer to his party but determined to boot him out.

The proposed coalition is unique in the sense that it comprises not only political formations from the Left, Centre and Right but also an Arab nationalist party, a historic development not seen since the establishment of the Jewish state.

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

The tide started to turn against Netanyahu when Bennett, leader of the small hardline Yamina party, who has served in the past as his chief of staff and held various portfolios as a minister over the years, made clear on May 24 that he was going to negotiate a coalition deal with Lapid.

Bennett, whose support base consists primarily of hardliners drawn from religious and nationalist Jews, had for months weighed in the option of risking his political future by getting into this new alignment.

"At such a crucial moment, responsibility must be taken", Bennett said in his dramatic announcement.

"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.

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 his announcement.

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 were once his close associates.

"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," a political analyst for daily Ha'aretz commented.

Netanyahu has accused Bennett of betraying the Israeli right-wing and urged nationalist politicians not to join what he called a leftist government .

A government like this is a danger to the security of Israel, and is also a danger to the future of the state, he said in a televised statement.

If Lapid had not mustered a coalition by Wednesday midnight, the entire Knesset would have had three weeks in which to agree on a new candidate who could muster the support of 61 lawmakers.

In the most recent elections, on March 23, Netanyahu's conservative Likud Party garnered the most seats in the Knesset or parliament.

But the Prime Minister was unable to command enough support to control a minimum of 61 seats in Israel's 120-seat parliament.

The President then tasked Lapid with forming a government.

According to Israeli law, the Knesset must hold a vote of confidence within a week of being formally notified of a new government being formed. This might not happen until Monday, which means the vote could be held as late as June 14.

There's still time for Netanyahu and his allies to convince people to defect from the bloc, or somehow tie things up procedurally in parliament.

Netanyahu remains prime minister until someone else is sworn in.

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.

Netanyahu, 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.

If the coalition fails to win the support of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, there is a risk of the country having to go to elections for the fifth time in two years.

On the other hand, a successful coalition deal would put an end to the record-setting tenure of Netanyahu, at least for the time being, who has led Israel at the helm of affairs uninterrupted since 2009.

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