Israeli opposition politicians clinch a deal to share power over the next four years

Israeli opposition politicians clinch a deal to share power over the next four years

Israel's opposition leader moved closer to unseating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he officially told the country's president that he has reached agreements with political allies to form a new government.

About 35 minutes before a Wednesday midnight deadline, the centrist Yair Lapid told President Reuven Rivlin in an email: “I am honored to inform you that I have succeeded in forming a government.”

Rivlin, attending Israel's soccer cup final at the time, congratulated Lapid by phone, according to his office.

Lapid's main partner is nationalist Naftali Bennett, who would serve as prime minister first under a rotation between the two men.

Lapid, 57, a former TV host and finance minister, would take 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 per cent Arab minority — the United Arab List.

It would also include Bennett's Yamina (Rightward), centre-left Blue and White, headed by Defence Minister Benny Gantz, the left-wing Meretz and Labour parties, former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman's nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party and New Hope, a right-wing party headed by former education minister Gideon Saar, who broke away from Netanyahu's Likud.

But the fragile new government, which would command a razor-thin majority in parliament, was only expected to be sworn in about 10-12 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, seizing upon Yamina members who are unhappy about joining forces with Arab and leftist lawmakers.

Netanyahu, who has yet to respond to Lapid's announcement, controls 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset, almost twice as many as Lapid's Yesh Atid party, and he is allied with at least three other religious and nationalist parties.

The new government, if it is sworn in, will face considerable diplomatic, security and economic challenges: Iran, the moribund peace process with the Palestinians, a war crimes probe by the International Criminal Court and economic recovery following the coronavirus pandemic.

A source involved in the coalition talks said the proposed new government would try to retain consensus by avoiding hot-button ideological issues such as whether to annex or cede occupied West Bank territory that Palestinians want for a state.