Israel's Opposition Have Until Midnight to Oust Benjamin Netanyahu

If a proposed deal between opposition parties is successful, far-right multimillionaire Naftali Bennett could become Israel's next Prime Minister.
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Israel’s opposition leader has until midnight tonight to form a coalition government and oust Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-running Prime Minister.

In March of 2021, Israel held its fourth snap election in two years – none of which have seen any party win a clear majority in the country’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset. This time, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party picked up the most votes, followed by Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party.

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In early April, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin gave Netanyahu 28 days to form a new government with support from other parties, but he was unable to make up the 61 seats needed.

On the 5th of May, Rivlin gave opposition leader Lapid the same opportunity, which is how we’ve reached the point where Naftali Bennett – a 49-year-old multimillionaire tech entrepreneur, and leader of the far-right Yamina party – could end up becoming Israel’s new Prime Minister.

Lapid is seeking to unite centrist, hard-right and left-wing parties, and experts say he will also need the support of Palestinian-Israeli politicians. Onlookers have noted that one of Lapid’s biggest challenges will be convincing Arab members of the Knesset to enter an agreement with Bennett, who supports Israeli settlements – considered illegal under international law – and opposes a two-state solution.

While there is no official confirmation, it has been reported that Bennett and Lapid would take turns as Prime Minister, with Bennett leading the next Israeli government for the first two years of the four-year term, before being replaced by Lapid for the final two.

On Sunday, Bennett said in a televised statement, “I am announcing today that I intend to work with all my might towards establishing a unity government with Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid.”

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If Lapid is unable to achieve a majority coalition, the Knesset will have three weeks agree on a prime ministerial candidate. If they are unable to do so, another election will be held. In his address, Bennett warned, “It is either a fifth election or a unity government.”

After Bennett’s announcement, Netanyahu – nicknamed “Bibi” – described the Yamina leader as being guilty of the “fraud of the century”, in reference to a pledge Bennett signed before the March elections, which stated he would never allow Lapid to become Prime Minister. He added that Bennett would become “prime minister at any price”.

On Monday, Lapid said that despite there being “obstacles” in securing the necessary 61 seats, “an Israeli unity government isn’t a compromise, it’s a goal”. He added: “It will have a simple goal: to take the country out of this crisis – the coronavirus crisis, the economic crisis, the political crisis and mostly the crisis within us, within the people of Israel.”

According to the Times of Israel, the top level security cabinet of the proposed unity government would have a majority of right-wing members, showing the concessions Lapid is willing to make to oust Netanyahu – and contradicting Bibi’s characterisation of the coalition as a “left-wing government” that is “a danger to the security of Israel and a danger to the future of the state”.

Today, opposition leaders said they were close to finalising the deal, with Israeli media reporting they had settled on how most of the ministries would be divided, and were now focused on key committee positions.