Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rivals yesterday sought to finalize a unity coalition that would unseat the veteran Israeli leader, but political commentators expect a bitter fight ahead.
Centrist opposition chief Yair Lapid secured support on Sunday from ultranationalist Naftali Bennett for a “change” government of ideologically disparate rivals.
The deal, in which Bennett would serve first as prime minister under a rotation with Lapid, must be finalized by a deadline of midnight tomorrow.
Netanyahu, 71, is the dominant political figure of his generation and his challengers have little in common — save a desire to emerge from his divisive shadow and from unprecedented turmoil that has seen four deadlocked elections in two years.
Hoping to discredit Bennett and other rightists now negotiating with Lapid, Netanyahu has cast them as committing “the fraud of the century” which would, he said, imperil Israel.
Lapid’s riposte was restrained.
“A week from now, the state of Israel can be in a new era. Suddenly it will be quieter. Ministers will go to work without inciting, without lying, without trying to instil fear all of the time,” he said in a televised address.
Though he described Bennett as “my friend, the prime minister-designate” and voiced hope of a deal before tomorrow, Lapid cautioned: “There are still plenty of obstacles in the way of the formation of the new government.”
Israelis were divided about everything except the folly of writing Netanyahu off.
“An event took place yesterday whose importance cannot be overstated. A real possibility was created ... an alternative government in every sense of the word,” Sima Kadmon wrote in the best-selling Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.
However, “it’s not over yet,” she added. “Long days loom in which Netanyahu will do absolutely everything to shift the momentum.”
Netanyahu faces other troubles, chiefly a corruption trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies all charges.
The veteran Likud Party leader is a survivor: He was first elected prime minister in 1996 and he returned to power in 2009, holding the top office for more than a decade.
Israel Hayom, a pro-Netanyahu newspaper, described Bennett and Gideon Saar, another rightist in talks with Lapid, as being “in service of the left.”
Netanyahu has kept the door open to them, saying he is still capable of forming the next government.
If Bennett and Lapid miss tomorrow’s deadline, parliament can choose a candidate to form a new coalition. Should that fail, the country goes to a fifth election.
However, a source briefed on the Bennett-Lapid power-sharing talks, which also include liberal and centre-left parties, said there had been “significant progress” toward a final deal, adding: “There’s a lot more that unites than separates.”
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