Israel nationalist hardliner Bennett joins anti-Netanyahu camp
Israeli nationalist hardliner Naftali Bennett Sunday said he would join a potential coalition government that could end the rule of the country’s longest-serving leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Lawmakers opposed to right-wing Netanyahu have been in intense talks ahead of a Wednesday deadline, as a ceasefire held following the latest deadly military conflict with Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
After a March vote in which Netanyahu’s Likud party gained the most seats but again failed to form a government, opposition leader and former TV anchor Yair Lapid is in the final days of a bid to build a rival coalition.
In his determination to bring down the hawkish prime minister, Lapid has offered to share power and let Bennett, 49, serve the first term in a rotating premiership.
Religious-nationalist Yamina won seven seats in March 23 elections, but one member has refused to join an anti-Netanyahu coalition.
He had earlier Sunday tried to cling to power by offering his own, last-ditch power-sharing agreement to several former allies including Bennett.
Lapid has until Wednesday 11:59 pm local time (2059 GMT) to build a coalition of at least 61 deputies, a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
A Lapid government would also include the centrist Blue and White party of Benny Gantz and the hawkish New Hope party of Netanyahu’s former ally Gideon Saar.
The shaky arrangement would need the backing of some Arab-Israeli lawmakers of Palestinian descent in order to pass a confirmation vote in parliament.
The war with Hamas that ended with a May 21 truce, as well as violence in the occupied West Bank and in mixed Jewish-Arab towns in Israel, initially appeared to leave Netanyahu more likely to hold onto power.
Netanyahu’s Likud party won 30 seats in the March elections but failed to form a governing coalition after his far-right partners refused to sit with Arab factions or receive their support.
Netanyahu had previously pushed for yet another election — Israel’s fifth in a little more than two years.
On Sunday Netanyahu offered his own proposal of a rotation agreement with Bennett and Saar. But Saar on Twitter said he remained committed to “replacing the Netanyahu regime”.
Lapid’s “change” coalition also still faced several obstacles.
The recent Gaza conflict sparked inter-communal clashes between Jewish and Arab Israelis in mixed cities.
Even with support from an Arab party, a new coalition in Israel is unlikely to reverse years of Israeli settlement construction or bring peace any time soon with Hamas in Gaza.
Another scenario would see the country return, yet again, to the polls.