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PoliticsMiddle East

Israeli PM's rival agrees to join coalition to unseat him

May 30, 2021

Naftali Bennett took a major step toward ending the 12-year rule of Benjamin Netanyahu, announcing that he would try to form a unity government with his opponents.

Naftali Bennett.
The Yamina right-wing alliance leader Naftali BennettImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Sultan

The leaders of a far-right and a centrist party confirmed on Sunday that they were seeking to form a governing coalition in Israel. 

If successful, their coalition would unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his center-right Likud party for the first time since 2009.

The Yamina right-wing alliance leader Naftali Bennett said in a nationally televised news conference that he would form a unity government with opposition Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party.

"It's my intention to do my utmost in order to form a national unity government along with my friend Yair Lapid, so that, God willing, together we can save the country from a tailspin and return Israel to its course,'' Bennett said. 

Bennett, a former Netanyahu aide turned rival, said he had made the decision to prevent Israel from sliding into a fifth consecutive election in just over two years.

Although Bennet shares Netanyahu's nationalist ideology, he said there was no feasible way for the hard-line right-wing to form a governing majority in parliament.

What did Netanyahu say?

Netanyahu accused Bennett of betraying the Israeli right-wing and perpetrating "the fraud of the century," citing past public promises Bennett made not to team up with Lapid. 

The Israeli leader urged nationalist politicians who have joined the coalition talks not to establish 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. 

Netanyahu's remarks deeming a potential coalition "leftist" is "a big exaggeration," Jerusalem-based journalist Sami Sockol told DW. 

"Netanyahu is usually the one who knows how to say the right thing [at] the right time, but he was just attacking, he seemed like he lost control," Sockol said. 

Netanyahu rival joins coalition — Israeli journalist Sami Sockol talks to DW

What could a potential coalition mean for Israeli politics? 

If a Naftali-Lapid alliance fails to form a government and new elections are triggered, Netanyahu could have another chance at seeing the election of a parliament in his favor. 

However, if the pair reaches an agreement, it is expected to have them each serve two years as prime minister in a rotation deal.

While Bennett called for a diverse coalition government in his Sunday address, he did not signal different policies toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

"He also made it very clear that this government would not withdraw from Palestinian territories," Sockol told DW. 

How the latest political crisis unfolded 

Netanyahu, the leader of the largest party in Israel, was given the first opportunity by the country's figurehead President Reuven Rivlin to form a coalition. 

But after he was unable to secure a majority with his traditional religious and nationalist allies, Rivlin asked Lapid, who has until Wednesday to complete the task. 

One of Lapid's main challenges has been the broad range of parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc that have little in common.

They include left-wing parties, right-wing and nationalist parties, and most likely the Islamist United Arab List.

Lapid's Yesh Atid party, which is popular with secular and middle-class voters, has been critical of Netanyahu's ties to ultra-Orthodox parties and previously called for his resignation over corruption charges.

Netanyahu was charged with accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust in three cases. 

fb/mm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)