Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his ruling Likud party, and the Israeli people awaited news Wednesday as a midnight deadline for opposition leaders to form a new government approached.
Hours remained for opposition politicians to hash out an agreement to build a coalition government that would end Netanyahu's 12-year run as prime minister.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid had 28 days to build a majority by allying with rival parties. The Guardian reported Wednesday Lapid should have informed the Israel’s president he had succeeded by the time it posted the report.
Lapid reportedly struck a deal with political rival Naftali Bennett, but a handful of disagreements over control of ministries and committees remained.
Lapid and other party leaders met near Tel Aviv on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the last agreements for a "government of change."
If a deal were to be finalized, Bennett, a far-right politician, would become Israel’s leader likely for two years in a four-year term.
Bennett’s support has been considered vital to the coalition’s success.
Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving prime minister, and his party were trying to find defectors and ruin Lapid’s plan. Likud members especially reached out to politicians on the religious hard right not to join Lapid, a self-described secular centrist.
With 61 seats needed for a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, losing one or two seats could end the opposition’s attempt.
Likud lawmaker and Speaker of the Knesset Yariv Levin said Tuesday politicians should not abandon their ideology.
"When you face a moment like this, you tell yourself: 'I must go with my truth, with my conscience, with what I’ve believed in for so many years, now is when I go with the public that supported me and to which I am committed. Now is when I act for the sake of the land of Israel. It is not too late,'" Levin told public broadcaster Kan.
Likud lawyers insisted Bennett’s right to serve first as prime minister was illegal. But Israel president Reuven Rivlin rebuked the challenge Tuesday.
Even if Lapid tells Rivlin he believes he can form a government, Netanyahu’s historic stretch in power could continue. Or a political deadlock could continue, bringing forth a fifth snap elections since 2019.
Lawmakers will need to approve a deal with a vote, expected in the next few days.
A religious nationalist, Bennett is a strong proponent for the settler movement in the Palestinian territories and has ruled out a Palestinian state.
An unlikely assortment of parties would join Bennett. They would include the establishment Labor; anti-occupation Meretz; the hawkish New Hope party of Netanyahu’s former ally Gideon Sa’ar; and Yisrael Beiteinu, a hardline secular party led by a Moldova-born settler Avigdor Lieberman.
Lapid also sought to secure backing from Arab Islamist members of parliament, who set aside ideological differences for the shared aim of ousting Netanyahu.
Bennett’s fragile government would be expected to focus on the economy and the pandemic, and the big issue of millions of Palestinians living under Israeli rule.
Netanyahu, who first served in the high office 1996-99, took over as prime minister in 2009. He’s facing the most serious challenge to his leadership, as well as his freedom.
The 71-year-old Netanyahu faces corruption charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust charges. He denies the allegations.
If he loses the fight to remain prime minister, Netanyahu could be denied parliamentary immunity, and a new government could pass legislation to bar him from office in the future.
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