The dramatic announcement by opposition leader Yair Lapid and his main coalition partner, Naftali Bennett, came moments before a midnight deadline and prevented the country from plunging into what would have been its fifth consecutive election in just over two years.
Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party won the most seats in the March 23 election, but he was unable to form a majority with his traditional religious and nationalist allies.
Crucially, a far-right party allied with Mr Netanyahu refused to join forces with a small Arab party that emerged as one of the kingmakers in the race.
Late Wednesday, Lapid told the president he had rallied the votes needed to form a coalition government to oust Netanyahu.
‘Lapid informed the president of the state of Israel… that he has succeeded in forming a government,’ his party said in a statement issued shortly before a deadline of one minute to midnight.
‘This government will work for all the citizens of Israel, those that voted for it and those that didn’t. It will do everything to unite Israeli society,’ he added on Twitter.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents announced they have reached a deal to form a new governing coalition, paving the way for the removal of the long-time Israeli leader. Pictured: Three opposition leaders (From left: Lapid, Bennett, Abbas) signing an agreement amid the talks on Wednesday
Lapid’s main partner is nationalist Naftali Bennett, who would serve as premier first under a rotation between the two men with Lapid taking over after about two years.
Their coalition government would comprise a patchwork of small and medium parties from across the political spectrum, including for the first time in Israel’s history a party that represents Israel’s 21% Arab minority.
But the fragile new government, which would command a razor-thin majority in parliament, was only expected to be sworn in about 10 days from now, leaving slight room for Netanyahu’s camp to try and abort it by turning lawmakers over to their side and vote against it.
Israeli political analysts widely expected Netanyahu to try every possible political manoeuvre to make this happen.
During a 12-year run in top office, Israel’s longest serving leader has been an often polarising figure at home and abroad.
An end to his tenure may bring reprieve from domestic political turmoil, but major shifts in Israel’s foreign policy appear less likely from the staunch U.S. ally.
Yair Lapid (left) and Naftali Bennett (right) had until the end of the day to to cobble together an administration that could end 12 straight years of rule by Netanyahu
They had until the end of the day – 11:59 pm (8:59pm GMT) – to cobble together an administration that would end 12 straight years of rule by the hawkish heavyweight, Israel’s longest-ruling premier.
As the deadline loomed on Wednesday night, Israeli media reported there were some lingering disagreements over lower-level political appointments.
But it was announced just an hour and a half before the deadline that the Arab Israeli party had agreed to join the coalition – soon followed by other parties – putting Netanyahu on the brink of being ousted.
If the deadline had been missed, it was extremely likely that a fifth election in just two years would be held in Israel.
To reach a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, their unlikely alliance also has to include other left and right-wing parties – and would need the support of Arab-Israeli politicians.
The resulting government would be riven by deep ideological differences on flashpoint issues such as Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the role of religion in politics.
Lapid has reportedly agreed to allow Bennett, a tech multi-millionaire who heads the Yamina party, to serve first as a rotating prime minister in a power-sharing agreement, before swapping with him halfway through their term.
Israeli politicians battling to unseat veteran right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were locked in last-ditch talks on Wednesday to hammer out their ‘change’ coalition composed of bitter ideological rivals
By early Wednesday evening, just six hours before the deadline at midnight, there was still no sign of progress, but compromises were reportedly being made in the final hours,
According to reports, Ayelet Shaked, Bennett’s deputy, was demanding a place on a committee that chooses the nation’s judges.
But Shaked, a prominent voice in Israel’s hard-line right wing, has expressed misgivings about joining forces with the dovish members of the emerging coalition.
Both Shaked and Bennett have come under heavy pressure from Netanyahu and the country’s right wing base not to join his opponents.
Meanwhile Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamic conservative Raam party, reportedly made last minute demands after last-minute talks with Netanyahu, who reportedly offered to cancel a law that enforces fines on illegal Arab buildings.
Abbas then demanded the same from the unity government being formed, and it was announced just before 20:30 GMT (10:30pm local time), that the Raam party had agreed to join the coalition.
The Knesset, or parliament, has assigned additional security guards to both in recent days because of death threats and online incitement.
Lawmakers elected Isaac Herzog as the 11th president since the creation of Israel in 1948 in a secret ballot on Wednesday.
Herzog, 60, is a former leader of the centre-left Labor party and minister from a prominent Tel Aviv family who supports two-state solution with the Palestinians.
He beat Myriam Peretz, 67, a settler and former headmistress widely known as ‘the mother of sons’ after she lost two of her six children while officers in the Israeli army.
Lawmakers elected Isaac Herzog (left) as Israel’s next president in a ballot on Wednesday. he beat Myriam Peretz (right) for the position
Netanyahu faces troubles, chiefly a corruption trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, sparking protests against him (pictured)
President Rivlin acknowledged in April that many believe Netanyahu is unfit to serve in light of his legal problems
Israel’s latest political turmoil adds to the woes of Netanyahu, who is on trial for criminal charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust while in office – accusations he denies.
If he were to lose power, he would not be able to push through changes to basic laws that could give him immunity, and would lose control over certain justice ministry nominations.
The last-minute talks also follow a flare-up of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, which ended after 11 days of deadly violence with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on May 21.
An image showing Hamas rockets fired from Gaza (right) and blasts as they are intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defence system (left)
The night sky on May 14 was lit up as rockets were fired towards Israel from Beit Lahia in the Gaza Strip
Netanyahu, who served an earlier three-year term in the 1990s, had warned on Sunday of ‘a left-wing government dangerous to the state of Israel’.
The premier, who heads the Likud party and has developed a reputation as a wily political operator, was scrambling to scupper the new alliance.
Likud’s lawyers on Tuesday tried to hobble the emerging coalition by challenging Bennett’s right to serve first as prime minister, given that it was Lapid who was charged with forming the government.
But the legal adviser to Israel’s president dismissed the challenge.
In order to build the anti-Netanyahu bloc, Lapid must sign individual agreements with seven parties, whose members would then vote in parliament to confirm their coalition.
They include the hawkish New Hope party of Netanyahu’s former ally Gideon Saar and right-wing secular nationalist Avigdor Lieberman’s pro-settlement Yisrael Beitenu party.
The centrist Blue and White party of Defence Minister Benny Gantz, the historically powerful Labor party and the dovish Meretz party would also join.
If all those parties indeed sign on, the emerging alliance still needs the backing of four more lawmakers, which Lapid hopes will come from Mansour Abbas’s (pictured) Islamic conservative Raam party
If all those parties indeed sign on, the emerging alliance still needs the backing of four more lawmakers.
For that, Lapid is counting on parties representing Palestinian citizens of Israel, which have yet to announce their intentions.
Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamic conservative Raam party, which has four seats, has generally voiced openness to any arrangement that improves living conditions for Israel’s 20 percent Arab minority of Palestinian descent.
Abbas told reporters Tuesday that negotiations appeared to be heading ‘in a good direction’.
But, he said: ‘until it’s finished, nothing is finished.’
Explained: Israel is set for a change of government, but is it the end for Benjamin Netanyahu?
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, is on the verge of being toppled from power after more than a decade in office.
The 71-year-old right-winger looks set to be ousted by an unlikely coalition of right-wing, centrist and other parties who clinched a deal to form a government that would break a period of unprecedented political deadlock that saw four elections in two years.
WHO ARE THE NEW GUARD?
NAFTALI BENNETT, 49, heads the ultra-nationalist party Yamina – ‘Rightwards’. The religious, pro-settler, party won only seven of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the March 23 election but he emerged first as kingmaker, then kingslayer and now king.
A high-tech millionaire who dreams of annexing most of the occupied West Bank, Bennett spent some of his childhood in North America. He may face cries of betrayal for forming a government with centre-left partners instead of his natural allies on the right.
YAIR LAPID, 57, and his centre-left party Yesh Atid – ‘There is a Future’ – came second, with 17 seats.
The former finance minister and TV host campaigned to ‘bring sanity’ back to Israel, a dig at Netanyahu. But the coalition with Bennett will likely be unstable, uniting unlikely allies from across the political spectrum.
GIDEON SAAR, 54, a former member of Netanyahu’s Likud who quit to set up the New Hope party. He rejected Netanyahu’s offer of a rotating premiership to keep him in power.
IS THIS THE END OF THE NETANYAHU ERA?
Not yet. The new government is not expected to be sworn in within the next 10 days, during which time Netanyahu remains prime minister at the head of a caretaker government. He will likely use this time to persuade rivals to defect.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR HIM?
His supporters love the man they call ‘King Bibi’ – admiring his hawkish stance on issues such as Iran and the Palestinians, and his high profile on the international stage.
But critics accuse him of being a polarising figure. They also highlight corruption allegations that led to the tag ‘Crime Minister’ – Netanyahu is on trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies wrongdoing.
A canny political operator, many expected him to glue together a coalition. But his deal-making touch deserted him, with many rivals wanting to emerge from his shadow.
DIDN’T HE GET CREDIT FOR ISRAEL’S VACCINE RECORD?
Netanyahu fought the most recent election by asserting that he turned Israel into the ‘vaccination nation’, leading the world in the recovery from COVID-19.
Even as the ballots were being counted, Israel passed the mark at which 50% of the population received two vaccine shots.
But such is the polarisation in Israeli politics that even this could not break the stalemate. Netanyahu was also accused of mismanaging earlier pandemic lockdowns that hit Israel’s economy hard.
WILL HE BE BACK?
Yes. A quarter of the electorate voted for his Likud Party, which remains the largest party with 30 of 120 Knesset seats.
And he will be the natural leader of the opposition. This is familiar territory – in the mid-1990s he made life very uncomfortable for then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Reporting by Associated Press
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