In the past 24 hours, Israel has come closer to the removal of its longest-serving prime minister.
Naftali Bennett of the right-wing Yamina party announced late Sunday his intention to team up with centrist Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, to form a unity coalition.
This would be a diverse collection of parties that have little in common other than the goal of ousting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been in power for more than 12 years. If successful, it would end the complex political deadlock that caused Israel to hold four elections in less than two years.
Israeli Yemina Party leader Naftali Bennett will make a political statement on May 30, 2021 in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem.
YONATAN SINDEL | AFP | Getty Images
Lapid’s challenge in forming a government is one that Netanyahu did not reach even before an earlier deadline in early May. The prime minister’s failure to build a ruling coalition with sufficient multi-party support – in particular, at least 61 seats in the Israeli parliament – meant President Reuven Rivlin mandated another politician, Lapid, with another 28 days’ notice.
If Lapid fails, the Israelis will likely have to vote for the fifth time in two years.
But was the Sunday news the nail in the coffin for Netanyahu’s prime ministerial?
Asif Shuja, a senior research fellow at the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore, says the right-wing prime minister still has time to convince MPs to take his side before an upcoming vote of confidence.
“I think he has a few days left to use other cards that he may have up his sleeve because once the deadline is up there will be some time for him to pass the vote of confidence,” said Shuja Dan Murphy from CNBC on Monday. “If he can get some members of the Knesset in his favor beforehand, he can actually form a government.”
71-year-old Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party, made a last-minute offer on Sunday to offer a three-way alliance with himself, Bennett and another right-wing politician, Gideon Saar. His attempt to lure lawmakers offered a rotating tenure between the three men for the remainder of their government’s tenure, if he were to form a victorious coalition with them.
But Saar, a former Likud lawmaker, quickly submitted the offer and wrote on Twitter: “Our position and our commitment were and are: to change the Netanyahu regime.”
“As far as I can see,” added Shuja, “there is serious opposition to his rule for another two years … that’s a long reign. And a lot has changed in that time.”
Lapid has until Wednesday to seal the deal with Bennett The agreement has yet to be signed and presented to the President before it can be officially sworn in.
Given the often unpredictable nature of Israeli politics, a lot can happen by then – and any majority should be slim.
Israel’s centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid will deliver a statement to the press on May 31, 2021 in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in Jerusalem.
DEBBIE HILL | AFP | Getty Images
Ofer Kenig, a professor of politics and research at the Israel Democracy Institute, said it was “questionable” whether a government would be formed.
“And the nightmare of a fifth election is not in the realm of the impossible,” he wrote in an article for the institute on Sunday.
Lapid himself said on the same day that “many obstacles” remain before his multifaceted coalition can be agreed.
New coalition “very diverse in nature”
Netanyahu is currently on trial on several corruption allegations, which he denies. That being said, Shuja and other analysts point to one of the biggest problems facing many Israeli voters: security.
“Israel doesn’t look very safe because of its 12-year reign. There are many geopolitical issues that can illustrate this point of view,” Shuja said. Regional observers point to several clashes between Israel and Palestinian militants, notably Hamas, during his tenure, most recently the violence in Gaza in May in which more than 250 Palestinians and 12 Israelis died.
“So this opposition is growing and we can see that there is real opposition to his rule and this new coalition is very diverse so we have to see what exactly we can expect in the future,” added Shuja.
However, the wide range of parties in the proposed opposition coalition – centrist, left, and right – offers the potential for further stalemate and shows how fragile such a government could be.
Bennett, known as a staunch nationalist on Israel’s right-wing, has supported the controversial Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. But to achieve a coalition government, it must have the support of at least some of Israel’s Arab parties, one of which has said it will join the unity government if it approves its demands.
As long as the common goal is to get Netanyahu off the field, experts say the alliance could stand. However, if the coalition takes power, the problems that have always divided its members could call into question its “unity”.