Who is in Israel's new coalition government?

Possibly most wide-ranging coalition in country's history to take power next week

Israel’s opposition leader Yair Lapid formed a wide coalition on Wednesday with minutes to spare before a legal deadline gave incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu another chance to form a government.

The new coalition, a mixture of religious, secular, nationalist, leftist, centrist and Arab parties, is now in a race to be approved by the Knesset and be sworn in.

Mr Netanyahu is likely to try to sabotage the coalition's efforts.

Government positions have been parcelled out among the parties, with Kahol Lavan party leader Benny Gantz set to take the defence portfolio, New Hope’s Gideon Sa'ar to assume leadership of the justice ministry and Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman to become finance minister.

Here are the main players in the new 61-seat coalition:

Yair Lapid, Yesh Atid

Yair Lapid announced on Wednesday he had managed to form a seven-party ruling coalition. AP
Yair Lapid announced on Wednesday he had managed to form a seven-party ruling coalition. AP

Yair Lapid, a 57-year-old secular centrist, was given the task of forming a government this past month after Mr Netanyahu failed to put together his own coalition following elections in March, the fourth inconclusive vote in less than two years. His party, Yesh Atid holds 17 seats, making it the largest in the coalition.

Mr Lapid began his television career in 1994 as the anchor of an evening news programme, but successfully transitioned into politics in 2012, when he founded Yesh Atid (There Is a Future).

He served under Mr Netanyahu from 2013 as Israel’s minister of finance, but joined the opposition in 2015. In 2019, Yesh Atid clubbed together with two other parties, Telem and Israel Resilience, to form the Blue and White coalition.

Naftali Bennett, Yamina

One of Mr Netanyahu's former proteges, Naftali Bennett, is now set to become the coalition's prime minister for two years, before rotating with Mr Lapid. The seven seats his right-wing Yamina party won in the March elections secured his place as kingmaker in the coalition.

The 49-year-old nationalist tech millionaire is known for his aspirations to expand Israel's settlements and annex up to sixty per cent of the West Bank.

Mr Bennett made his debut as Mr Netanyahu’s chief of staff for two years.

The two clashed when Mr Bennett fiercely opposed Mr Netanyahu’s decision in late 2009 to slow settlement construction in a US-led effort to encourage Palestinians to renew peace talks.

Mr Bennett briefly served as head of the West Bank settler’s council, Yesha.

About two months ago, Mr Bennett signed a pledge on national television.

“I won’t let Lapid become prime minister, with or without a rotation, because I’m a man of the right and for me, values are important,” he said.

Gideon Sa'ar, New Hope

Gideon Sa’ar, head of the New Hope party, has played a role in Israeli politics for almost two decades. He has served as aide to the attorney general and the state attorney as well as serving as Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet secretary.

Elected to the Knesset in 2003, he has served as the Likud parliamentary group chairman.

In 2013, he was appointed minister of internal affairs.

But in December 2020, Mr Sa’ar announced that he would leave Likud and form his own party, New Hope.

Mr Sa’ar is opposed to a two-state solution to the conflict with Palestine and has called for the annexation of the West Bank while being open to allowing the Palestinians autonomy in a federation with Jordan.

Avigdor Lieberman, Yisrael Beiteinu

Despite forming part of the Likud-led bloc in the 20th Knesset and running on a joint slate with Likud for the 19th Knesset, party leader Avigdor Lieberman has been vocal in his opposition to Mr Netanyahu and is now lending Yisrael Beiteinu's six seats to Mr Lapid's coalition.

Mr Lieberman's party describes itself as "a national movement with the clear vision to follow in the bold path of Zev Jabotinsky", the founder of Revisionist Zionism.

Avigdor Lieberman heads the Yisrael Beitenu party. AFP
Avigdor Lieberman heads the Yisrael Beitenu party. AFP

Mr Lieberman served as director general of Likud from 1993 to 1996 and then as director general of the prime minister's office.

A couple of years later, he founded and became head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party in 1999.

Mr Lieberman, 61, served two terms as foreign minister, from April 2009 to December 2012, and from November 2013 to May 2015.

Nitzan Horowitz, Meretz

Nitzan Horowitz, leader of Meretz, has largely championed social issues, advocating the rights of African migrants in Tel Aviv and criticising the existence of homophobia in the city.

The Meretz party is a left-wing, social-democratic and green party that reached its political peak between 1992 and 1996, when it had 12 seats. In the March elections, it won six seats.

Mr Horowitz, a 56-year-old former television journalist, served two full terms in the Knesset between 2009 and 2015.

Before being elected to the Knesset, he was the foreign affairs commentator and head of the international desk at Hadashot 10, the news division of Israel's Channel 10.

Benny Gantz, Kahol Lavan

To strengthen the chance of defeating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the April 2019 election, Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid and Benny Gantz, leader of the Israel Resilience Party, agreed to join forces. Citing their “national responsibility”, the two leaders ran on a joint ticket called Kahol Lavan, or Blue and White, the colours of the Israeli flag.

But they failed to unseat Mr Netanhayu, with Mr Lapid returning to his party and Mr Gantz heading Kahol Lavan, which now holds eight seats in the Knesset.

Mr Gantz is the Israel Defence Forces’ 20th chief of general staff.

Mr Netanyahu has praised him for his decades of "excellent service", describing him as "a high-quality, ethical, responsible, balanced and thoughtful chief of staff".

Mansour Abbas, Raam

Mansour Abbas's decision to sign the coalition agreement spells trouble for Benjamin Netanyahu. AFP
Mansour Abbas's decision to sign the coalition agreement spells trouble for Benjamin Netanyahu. AFP

Mansour Abbas made history on Wednesday night by becoming the first Arab politician in Israel to openly bargain for a role in the coalition.

He is the leader of the small Islamist Arab party known by its Hebrew acronym, Raam, with four seats in the current Parliament. Raam is the political wing of the southern branch of Israel's Islamic Movement, which was established in 1971 and traces its origins to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Raam formally agreed to join a Lapid-Bennett coalition government, though it would not hold any Cabinet seats.

Abbas' party split from Israel's main Arab coalition, the Joint List, before a March 23 election after advocating, unsuccessfully, that they work with Mr Netanyahu and other right-wing factions to improve living conditions for Arabs.

Although Arabs make up some 20 per cent of Israel’s population, an Arab party has never before been part of an Israeli coalition government.

Merav Michaeli, Labour

Merav Michaeli currently heads the largest left-wing party in the country which has been the dominant partner in every government since 1948.

She has been a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committees and subcommittees, and is also a member of the House Committee.

Ms Michaeli chairs the Zionist Union parliamentary group and has engaged in extensive political activity in sectors including society, economy, gender equality and LGBT and worker rights.

Prior to her election to the Knesset, Ms Michaeli was a journalist, regularly publishing op-ends and interviews for Haaretz newspaper.

Read more on Israel's coalition here:

Israel’s Yair Lapid announces coalition government to end Netanyahu rule

Israel's government: what happened and what comes next?

Israeli legislators elect Isaac Herzog for next president

Israeli PM-in-waiting Naftali Bennett's most controversial remarks

Updated: June 3, 2021 09:55 PM


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