Naftali Bennett will serve as Israel's new Prime Minister after the country's opposition leader Yair Lapid, mandated with the task of putting together a coalition government, told President Reuven Rivlin that he has succeeded in mustering enough support for it. The move came barely half an hour before the Wednesday midnight deadline was to expire. Lapid told the Israeli president that the government will include Yesh Atid, Kahol Lavan, Israel Beiteinu, Labor, Yamina, New Hope, Meretz and Ra'am parties.
"In accordance with Clause 13(b) of the Basic Law: The Government, I am honoured to inform you that I have succeeded in forming a government. The government will be an alternate government in accordance with Clause 13(a) of the Basic Law: The Government, and MK (Member of Knesset) Naftali Bennett will serve as prime minister first, Lapid told Rivlin.
"I commit to you Mr President, that this government will work to serve all the citizens of Israel including those who aren't members of it, will respect those who oppose it and do everything in its power to unite all parts of Israeli society," the Yesh Atid party leader said. Lapid also informed the Speaker of the Knesset, Yariv Levin, of his message to the President, a spokesperson for the Yesh Atid said.
He called upon the Speaker to fulfil the legal responsibility incumbent upon him and call a special session of the plenary as soon as possible, he said. The Israeli President thanked Lapid saying, "I congratulate you and the heads of the parties on your agreement to form a government. We expect the Knesset will convene as soon as possible to ratify the government, as required."
BREAKING: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israelâ€™s longest-serving leader, has been ousted as Prime Minister.â€” AJ+ (@ajplus) June 2, 2021
Rival parties say they have reached a coalition to name far-right nationalist Naftali Bennett, who supports illegal settlements and opposes Palestinian rights, to replace him. pic.twitter.com/mCgIIzYe4I
While Naftali Bennett has courted controversy in the past, the development, seen by some as historic as it includes an Arab party in the coalition, will break an ongoing political impasse which has seen Israel go through four polls yielding inconclusive results in less than two years. If successful in passing the floor test in the Knesset, the new government would save the country from the ignominious spectre of a fifth election since April 2019.
Sources point to some unresolved issues, but not too dramatic, which if sorted out could also mean a break from the "Bibi-regime", the nickname for incumbent PM Benjamin Netanyahu who has been at the helm of Israeli politics uninterrupted for the last 12 years. Netanyahu holds the record of being the longest serving Israeli PM, surpassing founding father Ben-Gurion, as he also served a term between 1996 and 1999.
His ouster also results from the coming together of some "friends turned foes" who were ideologically closer to his party but determined to boot him out. The proposed coalition is unique in the sense that it comprises not only political formations from the Left, Centre and Right but also an Arab nationalist party, a historic development not seen since the establishment of the Jewish state.
In a dramatic development, a former ally of Netanyahu had announced that he intends to form a national-unity government to "stop the craziness" of more elections and put "Israel back on track". The tide stated to turn against Netanyahu when Bennett, leader of the small hardline Yamina party, who has served in the past as his chief of staff and held various portfolios as a minister over the years, made clear on May 24 that he was going to negotiate a coalition deal with Lapid.
Bennett, whose support base consists primarily of hardliners drawn from religious and nationalist Jews, had for months weighed in the option of risking his political future by getting into this new alignment.
"At such a crucial moment, responsibility must be taken", Bennett said in his dramatic announcement. "Yair and I disagree on a number of issues of substance. But we are partners in our love for the country and willingness to work for the sake of the country", he asserted.
A government like this will succeed only if we work together as a group. Everyone will need to postpone fulfilling part of their dreams. We will focus on what can be done, instead of fighting all day on what's impossible, Bennett stressed in his announcement. Almost one-third of the lawmakers supporting the ouster of Netanyahu can be seen as his "natural allies" and are being led by leaders who were once his close associates.
"If Netanyahu had acted with a bit more consideration toward his right-wing partners, if he had avoided sinking into bitter disputes with people like Avigdor Lieberman, Gideon Sa'ar, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, he could have retained their loyalty," a political analyst for daily Ha'aretz commented.
Netanyahu has accused Bennett of betraying the Israeli right wing and urged nationalist politicians not to join 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 in a televised statement. Indicted on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes, Netanyahu has been unable to put together a coalition of majority in the 120 member Knesset.
Each of the past four elections was seen as a referendum on Netanyahu's fitness to rule and each ended in a deadlock. If Lapid had not mustered a coalition by Wednesday midnight, the entire Knesset would have had three weeks in which to agree on a new candidate who could muster the support of 61 lawmakers.