The one thing that's kept Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in power for the last two years, despite a massive corruption and bribery scandal, is the fact that the opposition hasn't been able to put enough votes together in the Knesset to oust him and form a new government. In fact, Israel is on its fifth attempt to do so in two years, and Netanyahu has remained in power out of sheer bloody-minded inertia.
A diverse coalition of Israeli opposition parties said Sunday that they have the votes to form a unity government to unseat Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader and its dominant political figure for more than a decade.
Under their agreement, reached after weeks of negotiations spearheaded by centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid, former Netanyahu defense minister and ally Naftali Bennett will lead a power-sharing government. Bennett, 49, would serve as Israel’s next prime minister, according to terms of the deal reported by Israeli media, to be succeeded in that role by Lapid, 57, at a later date.
“We could go to fifth elections, sixth elections, until our home falls upon us, or we could stop the madness and take responsibility,” Bennett said in a televised statement Sunday evening. “Today, I would like to announce that I intend to join my friend Yair Lapid in forming a unity government.”
Lapid is expected on Monday to inform President Reuven Rivlin of his ability to form a government with the support of Bennett, and will have a week to finalize coalition deals. At the end of the week, the government will come up for a vote of confidence in the Knesset.
Netanyahu, 71, has struggled to hold onto power after four inconclusive elections in the past two years while facing an ongoing corruption trial. Bennett is one of several former loyalists who have flirted with joining the so-called change coalition, a collection of parties that span the political spectrum but share a desire to end Netanyahu’s 12-year tenure.
Their announcement follows the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip this month, which some analysts speculated would help bolster the embattled Netanyahu. At the outset of the fighting, Bennett, a former Netanyahu protege who had been poised to join a unity government with Lapid, said the military operation, which killed more than 250 Palestinians and 12 Israelis, had ended his interest in joining with the anti-Netanyahu coalition, which has the support of left-leaning and Arab parties.
But after an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire took hold May 21, criticism of Netanyahu surged again. Some 47 percent of Israelis said they opposed the cease-fire and 67 percent said they expected another round of fighting with Hamas within the next three years, according to opinion polls published last week by Israel’s Channel 12.
Netanyahu’s rivals said the operation lacked a coherent or long-term strategy and that Netanyahu’s failure to stop Hamas rocket fire from raining down on Israel or secure the remains of Israeli soldiers was further proof of his need to leave office.
“With the best intelligence and air force in the world, Netanyahu managed to extract from Hamas an ‘unconditional cease-fire.’ Embarrassing,” tweeted Gideon Saar, another former Netanyahu protege now with the change coalition.