JERUSALEM (AP) — A constellation of Israeli political parties seeking to unseat longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened Monday to hash out power-sharing agreements two days before a deadline.
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said at a meeting of his Yesh Atid party that “a great many obstacles” stood before a prospective government. But he said the various members of the anti-Netanyahu coalition are trying “to see if we can find in the coming days wise compromises for the sake of the big aim.”
Lapid was tasked by the country’s figurehead president with forming a government earlier this month after Netanyahu failed to do so in the aftermath of the March 23 elections, the fourth in two years.
On Sunday, Naftali Bennett, head of the small, hard-line nationalist Yamina party, said he would work with Lapid to form a broad unity government and “save the country from a tailspin and return Israel to its course.” Lapid has already secured the support of two smaller liberal parties and a secular ultranationalist faction.
Bennett and Lapid have until Wednesday to hammer out a deal in which the pair split the premiership — with Bennett serving the first two years and Lapid the following two.
No political party has ever won an outright majority in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset, forcing smaller factions to band together to form a coalition with more than 61 seats.
If Lapid and his allies — which range from hard-line nationalists to liberal Zionists and a small Islamist party — can overcome their differences and seal a deal, it would spell the end of Netanyahu’s rule, for the time being.
Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, having held office since 2009, as well as a brief stint in the late 1990s. Despite his Likud party being the largest faction in the Knesset, he has become a divisive figure. Israel has held four parliamentary elections in the past two years, all seen as a referendum on his fitness to rule.
The long-serving prime minister has held onto power despite being indicted on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in 2019. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and has refused to step down from office while on trial.
After Bennett announced his intention to join forces with Lapid, Netanyahu lashed out in a nationally televised speech, saying that such a government “is a danger to the security of Israel, and is also a danger to the future of the state.”
Lapid responded to Netanyahu’s remarks on Monday, saying they were “reckless and dangerous, that of a man who has lost the brakes.”
“If you want to know why we’re determined to (bring) a change of government in Israel, go listen to that speech by Netanyahu,” Lapid said, referring to Netanyahu’s claim that a government without him would be “dangerous” and growing calls to violence by some against the prime minister’s political opponents and others.
Lapid pointed to the security details assigned to the prime minister’s political rivals, reporters and state prosecutors in Netanyahu’s corruption trial.
On Sunday, the Knesset Guard approved assigning a personal bodyguard to senior Yamina party politician Ayelet Shaked amid increasing threats of physical violence. Protesters outside Shaked’s home held signs that read “Leftist traitors.” Bennett received a personal security detachment earlier this month.
Gideon Saar, a former member of Netanyahu’s Likud party who split away ahead of the March elections, said his New Hope was “doing everything in our power” to reach a compromise and form a government, but that such an outcome remained uncertain.
Saar railed against the “incitement” against politicians seeking to assemble a coalition without Netanyahu, saying the prime minister “and his people are engaging in wild de-legitimization of a government that has yet to arise.”
Ilan Ben Zion, The Associated Press