Israel’s opposition parties have combined to try to form a minority government that could oust the country’s longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and avoid the country’s fifth election in two years.
The self-proclaimed “government of change” must now present its plans to President Reuven Rivlin. If he approves the proposal, it must be voted on by the 120-seat Knesset, a process that will take at least a week to arrange.
With 57 seats, the minority government will need the support of the Islamist Ra’im party, which has four, to cross the 61-seat threshold to form a government.
If Netanyahu can persuade at least one of the right-wing parties in the planned coalition to defect, he could spoil the slim majority that his opponents aspire to.
If the opposition succeeds, the government will initially be headed by Naftali Bennett, a former ally of Netanyahu, who leads the right-wing, pro-settlement Yamina party. The party has only six seats in the Knesset after losing the support of one member who refused to join the new coalition.
He will co-chair the premiership in rotation with Yair Lapid, a former TV presenter and leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, which has 17 seats. The rest of the coalition is made up of a constellation of parties stretching from the far left Meretz to the right-wing New Hope party.
“Four elections have already damaged the country – the political crisis in Israel is unprecedented in the world,” Bennett said in a prime-time speech Sunday night. “I will work with all my might to form a government with my friend Yair Lapid.”
But the coalition is contingent on the support of Mansour Abbas, who heads the list. In exchange for his support, the party seeks to protect conservative Islamic lifestyles and fund more police, hospitals, and civic resources for Arab-dominated cities in northern Israel.
In the past 25 months, Israel has held four elections that ended in stalemate, resulting in a short-lived coalition that Netanyahu ended himself in December 2020 as he launched the world’s fastest vaccination program against the coronavirus in the expectation that it would help him achieve victory in the post-election. But the March polls were inconclusive.
Lapid and Bennett’s talks aimed at forming a new administration were suspended earlier this month after the outbreak of the 11-day conflict between Israel and the Palestinian movement Hamas. The violence exacerbated a wave of sectarian fighting between Arabs and Jews living in Israel and sparked serious unrest in the occupied West Bank and killed nearly 250 people in the Gaza Strip.
If the new coalition succeeds in forming a government, it will end the tenure of Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, who has been at the head of the Jewish state since 2009, after a three-year period in the 1990s.
Netanyahu will find himself an outcast as his trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust gains momentum in the Jerusalem District Court. He denied the accusations, describing them as a politically motivated manhunt aimed at overthrowing his premiership.
As prime minister, Netanyahu has attacked courts, prosecutors and police investigators, accusing them of bias. As the leader of the opposition, his influence would be even more muted.
Bennett and Lapid will struggle to unite an ideologically inconsistent coalition of right-wing, centrist and left-wing factions dependent on the support of an Arab party. Bennett emphasized his right-wing credentials in his speech, describing himself as the once leader of a council of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which the international community considers illegal.
This is not a government that will return parts of the Land of Israel. She will be able to go to war if necessary.
And the Arab List party broke with other Arab parties in Israel, which supported the minority government only once, by offering its support to any coalition that takes its demands seriously, and seeks to exert influence in the country’s faltering politics.
On Sunday, Netanyahu offered Bennett and another former ally, Gideon Sa’ar, who heads a breakaway faction of former Likud leaders, a tripartite premiership in a bid to form his government.
Sa’ar was to spend 15 months at the head of the Jewish state, Netanyahu two years, and Bennett the remainder of the five-year term. However, Sa’ar campaigned on a promise to bring down Netanyahu and refused to offer a coalition that would keep him in power.
“We are at a crucial moment for Israel’s security, character and future, when you put aside any personal considerations and take far-reaching and even unprecedented steps,” Netanyahu said before rejecting the proposal.