Israel’s fragile anti-Netanyahu coalition in race to get sworn in | Israel


Israeli opposition politicians set on ejecting Benjamin Netanyahu from office are rushing to establish a government, as the country’s longest-serving prime minister gathered allies for an emergency meeting to strategise how to knock down the fragile coalition.

A day after the opposition head, Yair Lapid, announced that he and Naftali Bennett – his far-right partner and prime minister in waiting – could form a “government of change”, the race was on to get it voted on in parliament and sworn in.

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Who is Yair Lapid?

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A telegenic former TV news anchor popular with secular middle-class Israelis, Yair Lapid was charged with forging a governing coalition before the deadline on 2 June. 

Lapid’s Yesh Atid party has promised to lower the cost of living and reduce the power of religious authorities, for example, by bringing in civil marriage.

The 57-year-old has described himself as a centrist and somebody who supports a two-state solution. However, Lapid also said he was a “security hawk” and that there were some issues he would not compromise on in any future negotiations with the Palestinians, such as control over Jerusalem, a critical issue in the crisis.

“The Palestinians want to destroy us more than they want to build a nation,” he said in a recent interview with the Times of Israel. “And as long as this is the situation, there will be no two states.” Oliver Holmes

Photograph: Debbie Hill/UPI POOL

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The process could take two weeks or more, all while the coalition remains vulnerable to collapse. It is composed of a mix of bitter ideological rivals, including Jewish religious nationalists and Arab Islamists, who are united only by a shared desire to oust Netanyahu.

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Who is Naftali Bennett?

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A far-right former settler leader, Naftali Bennett was once a senior aide and adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu and ran Israel’s education and defence ministries in his governments.

Bennett, who wants to annex most of the occupied West Bank, remains ideologically close to Netanyahu and was once a member of his ruling Likud party. However, the 49-year-old has fallen foul of his old boss.

A stalwart of Israel’s religious right, Bennett is a former leader of Yesha, the main Jewish settler movement in the West Bank. He has made settlement expansion, the annexation of Palestinian land and the rejection of a Palestinian state a feature of his political platform.

“I would not give another centimetre to the Arabs,” he said in 2018. “We have to drop the idea that if we give them more territory the world will love us.”

The son of immigrants from San Francisco, Bennett became a hi-tech millionaire after selling an anti-fraud software company to a US security firm. On some issues, the former commando is less conservative than his colleague on the hard right, including gay rights and the relationship between religion and state. Oliver Holmes

Photograph: Yonatan Sindel/Pool Flash 90

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On Thursday, the opposition was scrambling to get the speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, to schedule a vote of confidence in the proposed government. However, the speaker, Yariv Levin, is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party and has powers to delay, giving his boss more time to manoeuvre.

In his first remarks since Lapid announced the proposed coalition, Netanyahu tweeted on Thursday morning that all rightwing lawmakers “must oppose this dangerous leftwing government”. He accused the Lapid-Bennett administration of having “sold out” to politicians from the country’s Arab minority.

The opposition coalition had a razor-thin one-seat margin of 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, meaning cold feet from a single lawmaker could topple it.

One member of Bennett’s Yamina party had already defected earlier this week, following an outcry among the hard right that Bennett would join “leftist” parties and Arab lawmakers – politicians he had long derided to his nationalist base.

In days of protests outside Bennett’s house, former supporters have called him a traitor. Israel’s domestic intelligence service, the Shin Bet, said on Thursday it had provided Bennett with bodyguards.

Meanwhile, voices from Netanyahu’s party were adding pressure. Gilad Sharon, the son of the late Likud prime minister Ariel Sharon, accused Bennett on Thursday of “selling out his principles, which have proved to be very flexible, for the sake of a job”.

In a first for Israel, where roughly a fifth of the population are Palestinian citizens, a small party of Islamists signed up to join the government. The leader of the United Arab List, Mansour Abbas, is seen as a pragmatist. He hopes to secure billions of shekels in investments for the minority and to freeze home demolitions in Arab communities.

Abbas told Army Radio on Thursday he hoped other Arab lawmakers who want Netanyahu gone but have also refused to support Bennett would back the proposed government to bolster its slim majority.

“Efforts are being made to expand the circle of support for the coalition and government … then we will have more of a safety net for the coalition,” he said.

Netanyahu, who has been in high office for a total of 15 years since 1996, gathered allies at his residence. He is facing political danger but also potential threats to his freedom.

The 71-year-old is fighting three corruption cases, on fraud, bribery and breach of trust charges, which he denies. If he were to go into opposition, he may be denied parliamentary immunity, and the new government could pass legislation to bar him from office in the future.

Abbas said Netanyahu had been calling him on Wednesday before he signed the coalition agreement in the hopes of changing his mind. Abbas said: “I think that it is natural for there to be talks and pressure in politics.”





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