Wednesday, June 2, 2021

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL — It took parties from across the political spectrum and used up nearly all the time allotted, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s long political reign looks like it is nearing an end.

In a move with immense consequences for Israel, the region and relations with the United States, a diverse coalition of parties hostile to Mr. Netanyahu reached a deal just before midnight Wednesday to oust the prime minister and form a new governing coalition, a changing of the guard after 12 years many once thought would never come and one that many say could collapse before crossing the finish line.

Centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid and his main coalition partner, ultranationalist and former Netanyahu ally Naftali Bennett, announced an agreement just moments ahead of the midnight deadline, apparently sparing a vote-weary electorate yet another election — the fifth — in just two years.

Mr. Netanyahu and his allies were quick to note that the unwieldy alliance, which includes the first Arab-Israeli party in a governing coalition, has little uniting itself besides a desire to oust the incumbent. But Mr. Lapid expressed optimism that the coalition will hold and survive a test vote expected as early as next week.

“I am honored to inform you that I have succeeded in forming a government,” Mr. Lapid told President Reuven Rivlin, promising a “government of change.”

“I commit to you, Mr. President, that this government will work for 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,” he said.

Under the deal, Mr. Lapid and Mr. Bennett will split the job of prime minister. Mr. Bennett will serve the first two years, and Mr. Lapid will serve the final two years. The deal also includes the United Arab List, the first Arab party to be part of a governing coalition in Israel.

Many expressed relief and hoped the deal would end a grinding stalemate in Israeli politics centered almost entirely around whether Mr. Netanyahu should stay or go. But there were also concerns that the broad coalition, including those for and against new settlements and great differences in dealing with the Palestinians, can survive for a full four-year term.

“After four election campaigns, we needed to have a magical solution that had to be out of the box,” said Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak, a political scientist at Tel Aviv University. “Indeed, the inclusion of the Israeli Arab parties to the coalition was Netanyahu’s idea, and that’s why he cannot delegitimize their inclusion to the coalition.”

Still, Mr. Yanarocak said, “since the new coalition is very fragile, it is very early to declare Netanyahu’s end.”

“This is still very far from over,” Anshel Pfeffer, a political analyst for the liberal Haaretz newspaper, wrote in a post on Twitter.

The eight parties in the coalition include two left-wing parties that support an independent Palestinian state and three hard-line parties that oppose major concessions to the Palestinians and support West Bank settlements, The Associated Press reported. Mr. Lapid‘s Yesh Atid and Blue and White, a centrist party headed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and the United Arab List are the remaining members.

Mr. Netanyahu‘s Likud has the single biggest bloc of votes in the 120-seat Knesset with 30 members, and some on the right were predicting his opponents will regret the move to oust him.

Amnon Lord, a columnist for Yisrael Ha Yom, a right-wing, staunchly pro-settler daily newspaper, wrote of the deal, “The worst thing is that Bennett knows he is about to become prime minister based on a bitter, hysteric wave of hatred for Netanyahu, a wave of ‘Bibi-phobia’ that is nothing less than secondary antisemitism.”

The deal must be approved by the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in a vote as early next week. Analysts predict that Mr. Netanyahu, who is desperate to remain in office as he faces a trial on corruption charges, will do everything possible to peel off supporters and prevent the new coalition from taking power.

The coalition is vulnerable at many points, but it’s not clear who will join Mr. Netanyahu to stop it. “He lost the trust of his partners,” Mr. Yanarocak said.

Meanwhile, some hailed the inclusion of the Arab party in the governing coalition as a historic milestone.

“This will allow them to influence some decisions relating to social economic reality of poverty and discrimination,” said Mohammad Darawshe, director of Equality and Shared Society at Givat Haviva Center, an institute for Jewish Arab cooperation near Tel Aviv.

“Netanyahu was the most polarizing figure in the history of the country. He fed on seeding hate between the different parts of society, increasing racism, discrimination and nationalism,” he said. “The fact this government has some center-left leaning parties will allow some repair efforts to try and build a shared society based on equality and legitimacy of citizenship.”

Retired Brig. Gen. Amir Avivi, director of Habithonistim, a group of 2,000 former Israeli generals and servicemen, worried that the inclusion of the Arab party would harm Israeli security.

Israel’s security cannot depend on the Israeli Muslim Brotherhood. It’s a direct threat to our national security and will create chaos in Israel, strengthening Islamist radicals,” he said. “It also undermines our basic Zionistic values.”

Israel must protect itself from subversive threats from within,” he added. “Now it looks as though Zionism has been put on the chopping block in the name of personal political egos and interests.”

Mr. Bennett once served as a top aide to Mr. Netanyahu. His small but critically placed Yamina party has the support of religious and nationalist hard-liners. Before going into politics, the prime minister-designate was a high-tech entrepreneur and leader of the West Bank settler movement.

Mr. Lapid, 57, a former journalist and author, heads the Yesh Atid party. He has been in the opposition since 2015 after a falling-out with Mr. Netanyahu. Mr. Lapid‘s base is largely secular, middle-class voters deeply unhappy with Mr. Netanyahu and his reliance on conservative ultra-Orthodox parties to stay in power.

Still, for many Israelis, not much has changed.

“From where I sit, we are exchanging a dysfunctional right-wing government for a functional one,” said Ori Weisberg, an American Jewish immigrant who works as an academic translator. “And lots of people are just tuned out. My wife doesn’t care at all. My kids are pretty checked out, except for my eldest, who just wants a government because ‘it’s embarrassing’” not to have one.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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