Benjamin Netanyahu calls on Knesset members to oppose 'dangerous' new Israel government

Yair Lapid announced coalition government to end long-time prime minister's rule

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fought back on Thursday against an agreement by his political opponents to unseat him, calling the new coalition government "dangerous".

Opposition leader Yair Lapid said late on Wednesday that he has managed to form a broad-based coalition to unseat Mr Netanyahu and end the reign of the longest-serving prime minister in the country’s history.

Mr Netanyahu responded on Twitter that "all legislators elected by votes from the right must oppose this dangerous left-wing government".

If ratified by parliament in a confidence vote in the coming week, the new Israeli government will make history by becoming the first to include an Arab party after Mansour Abbas, head of the conservative RAAM, signed the agreement.

The coalition commands a razor-thin majority of 61 votes in parliament.

Now the question is whether the group’s votes will hold together to name a new parliament speaker. The speaker would preside over a Knesset vote required to confirm the new government.

The current parliament speaker is a Netanyahu ally who could use his position to delay the vote and give Mr Netanyahu more time to sabotage the coalition.

As the Lapid-Bennett coalition was coming together in recent days, Mr Netanyahu and his supporters ramped up a pressure campaign against former hawkish allies, including right-wing nationalist tech millionaire Naftali Bennett and his closest ally the Yamina party, Ayelet Shaked.

Mr Netanyahu accused them of betraying right-wing values. His supporters launched vicious social media campaigns and staged noisy protests outside Mr Shaked’s home.

The prime minister’s Likud party also advertised a demonstration on Thursday night outside the home of Yamina lawmaker Nir Orbach, urging him to quit the coalition.

That’s a taste of the pressure to be expected for lawmakers on the right, while some on the left now have time to think about whether they will pay for this partnership in the next election.

“There will be a lot of pressure, especially on right-wingers, especially for religious right-wingers,” Gideon Rahat, a political-science professor at Hebrew University, told the Associated Press.

“They will go to the synagogue and people will pressure them. It will be a nightmare for some of them.”

Mr Netanyahu and his supporters called a meeting later on Thursday to discuss their next steps.

Should last-minute defections scupper the "change" alliance, Israel would likely have to hold yet another election, the fifth in bout two years.

Coalition government formed

"I succeeded," Mr Lapid, a former TV news anchor, wrote on Facebook. "I promise that this government will work in the service of all of the citizens of Israel, those who voted for it and those who did not."

Mr Bennett would serve first as prime minister in a rotation agreement, with Mr Lapid to take over after two years.

"With the help of God, we will do together what is good for Israel and we'll get Israel back on track," Mr Bennett told Israel's President Reuven Rivlin after Mr Lapid informed Mr Rivlin of their coalition.

The new coalition is made up of (from left to right): Yesh Atid led by Yair Lapid, Yamina led by Naftali Bennett, New Hope led by Gideon Sa'ar, Israel Beiteinu led by Avigdor Lieberman, Meretz led by Nitzan Horowitz, Kahol Lavan led by Benny Gantz, Raam led by Mansour Abbas and Labour led by Merav Michaeli. AFP

Mr Lapid was tasked with forming a government after Mr Netanyahu failed to put together his own coalition following March elections, the fourth inconclusive vote in less than two years.

Mr Netanyahu has become a divisive figure in Israeli politics over his tenure and is currently facing criminal charges.

Three parties in the last election were led by former top aides who fell out with him.

To build the anti-Netanyahu bloc, Mr Lapid had to sign individual agreements with seven parties.

Who is in the new Israeli coalition?

  • Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (centrist) with 17 seats
  • Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) (centrist) with eight
  • Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu (centre-right to right-wing nationalist) with seven
  • Merav Michaeli’s Labor (social-democratic) with seven
  • Naftali Bennett’s Yamina (right-wing) with seven
  • Gideon Sa'ar’s New Hope (centre-right to right-wing) with six
  • Nitzan Horowitz’s Meretz (left-wing, social-democratic) six
  • Mansour Abbas’s RAAM (Arab Islamic) with four

Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who unsuccessfully challenged Mr Netanyahu in three previous votes, tweeted it was a "night of great hope," as he headed to Washington for pre-scheduled talks.

The change alliance also includes the Arab Israeli Islamic conservative party RAAM, whose head Mansour Abbas announced that he had joined in order to secure funding and policies to benefit Israel's 20 per cent minority of Palestinian descent.

"I just signed an agreement with Yair Lapid so that he can declare that he can form a government after reaching . agreements on various issues that serve the interest of Arab society," he said.

Other Arab lawmakers supported the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin from outside his coalition in the 1990s, but Mr Abbas was the first Arab politician in Israel to openly bargain for a role in the coalition, said political analyst Afif Abu Much.

Mr Abu Much noted that lawmakers with other parties representing Arab citizens of Israel announced they would oppose the government headed by Mr Bennett, a strong supporter of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Wednesday night's deal deepens the woes of Mr Netanyahu, 71, who is on trial for criminal charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust while in office – accusations he denies.

If he loses power, he will not be able to push through changes to basic laws that could give him immunity, and will lose control over certain justice ministry nominations.

The swearing-in is expected to take place on June 9, giving Mr Netanyahu another week to try to persuade legislators to leave the new coalition.

– Additional reporting by agencies

Benjamin Netanyahu's political career – in pictures

Updated: June 4, 2021 06:23 PM

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