Israel: Netanyahu’s political future at risk as rival named to form government

Yair Lapid has four weeks to form a government before the task is handed to parliament

Israel's longest-serving leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has failed to form a government after four weeks of talks. AP
Israel's longest-serving leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has failed to form a government after four weeks of talks. AP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political future was in jeopardy on Wednesday as the country’s president tapped a top rival, Yair Lapid, to form a coalition.

More than two years since Israelis went to the polls to elect a new government, politicians have been unable to establish a coalition lasting more than a few months.

The deadlock thrust the electorate into a fourth consecutive election in March, in which Mr Netanyahu emerged with the largest number of seats but lacking the broader support necessary to head a government.

After four weeks of horse-trading in which the incumbent worked tirelessly to cling on to power, he acknowledged moments before a midnight deadline on Tuesday that the efforts had come to nothing.

The latest twist in Israel’s seemingly endless political saga prompted President Reuven Rivlin to pick an alternative candidate on Wednesday.

“It is clear that MK Yair Lapid could form a government that has the confidence of the Knesset, despite there being many difficulties,” said Mr Rivlin, referring to Israeli parliament.

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The presidency said six parties had recommended the Yesh Atid party chief. They include Gideon Sa'ar, who defected from the prime minister’s Likud before the latest election and founded the New Hope party.

Mr Lapid had lost out at the last round of presidential consultations, when he was nominated by 45 legislators while 52 of them backed Mr Netanyahu.

A former news anchor, Mr Lapid has emerged as the most prominent leader of the bloc seeking to oust Israel’s longest-serving leader who is on trial for corruption.

But beyond their animosity towards Mr Netanyahu, parties from across the political spectrum have little in common and have so far been unable to secure a 61-seat alliance.

"After two years of political paralysis, Israeli society is hurting. A unity government isn’t a compromise or a last resort - it’s a goal, it’s what we need," Mr Lapid said in a statement.

"We need a government that will reflect the fact that we don’t hate one another," he added, promising to unite parties from right and left.

They are expected to woo Naftali Bennett, leader of the nationalist Yamina party who had effectively remained on the fence by nominating himself.

A former protege of the prime minister, Mr Bennett this week rejected an offer by Mr Netanyahu to hold the premiership for the next year before handing over to the incumbent.

The decision to not openly back Mr Lapid still leaves the door open for Yamina’s seven legislators to join a coalition to unseat the prime minister.

If the opposition bloc fails to reach a deal within four weeks, they can request a two-week extension or the task could fall to parliament. In the latter scenario, legislators would have 21 days to build a coalition before a fifth election is called.

The electorate, meanwhile, appears to have lost confidence in their leaders’ ability to overcome the political turmoil.

Nearly 70 per cent believe a fifth election is on the horizon, according to an Israel Democracy Institute survey conducted last week. If their assessment is accurate, Israeli polling stations will reopen by the end of this year.

Updated: May 6, 2021 08:50 AM

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