BENJAMIN Netanyahu’s 12-year tenure as Israel’s prime minister is on the cusp of ending after eight opposition parties formed a coalition.
The controversial leader looks set to be dramatically ousted by an unlikely group aiming to break a period of unprecedented political deadlock that saw four elections in two years.
The seismic political development comes in the tense aftermath of an 11-day war between Israel and Palestine after clashes in Jerusalem sparked a bombing blitz that killed more than 250 people.
The “change coalition” will see Yamina party leader and nationalist hardliner Naftali Bennett serving as prime minister first before handing over to Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party.
Lapid announced the political take-down tonight.
Netanyahu defiantly condemned the alliance against him as “the fraud of the century” last Sunday, warning that it would result in “a left-wing government dangerous to the state of Israel”.
But he has yet to comment on the coalition deal.
In a statement, Mr Lapid said he had informed President Reuven Rivlin of the agreement.
“I pledge that this government will work in the service of all Israeli citizens, those who voted for it and those who did not,” he said.
“It will respect its opponents and do everything in its power to unite and connect all parts of Israeli society.”
Mr Lapid said he would head the government alongside Mr Bennett, who he would replace as prime minister on August 27 2023.
But the deal isn’t yet sealed.
The new government is not expected to be sworn in within the next 10 days, during which time Netanyahu remains prime minister at the head of a caretaker government.
But he will likely use this time to persuade rivals to defect.
A quarter of the electorate voted for his Likud Party, which remains the largest party with 30 of 120 Knesset seats.
The diverse composition of the Lapid-Bennett alliance could make it particularly unstable in a country so riven by political divisions that “do-over” elections have become the norm.
That means that no one in Israel is ruling out a Netanyahu political comeback.
Already, the tone of his remarks has echoes of his closest international ally, former U.S. President Donald Trump, himself now unseated but still commanding loyalty from supporters.
For Netanyahu’s grassroots backers, dubbed “Bibists”, he remains a leader tough on security and a bulwark against pressure, even from Trump’s successor President Joe Biden, for any bold steps that could lead to a Palestinian state.
From the opposition benches, Netanyahu is likely to press on with a message that the new coalition will be hobbled by its left-wing members.
The coalition members
- Yesh Atid – led by Yair Lapid
- Kahol Lavan – led by Benny Gantz
- Israel Beiteinu – led by Avigdor Lieberman
- Labor – led by Merav Michaeli
- Yamina – led by Naftali Bennett
- New Hope – led by Gideon Sa’ar
- Meretz – led by Nitzan Horowitz
- Ra’am – led by Mansour Abbas
During a 12-year run in top office, Israel’s longest-serving leader has been a polarising figure at home and abroad.
Netanyahu has taken a hard line towards the Palestinians and placed security concerns at the top of any discussion of peace.
He has also long warned of the danger to Israel from Iran.
Under his rule, Israel has launched waves of attacks and assassinations in a bid to cripple the theocracy’s nuclear weapons programme.
But Netanyahu’s stewardship of Israel’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout has won praise globally — but this was not enough to halt his political downfall.
A sense that he was living on borrowed time was compounded by criminal charges over alleged favours to media tycoons and illegal receipt of expensive cigars and champagne.
The allegations led to him being dubbed “crime minister”.
Netanyahu has denied all wrongdoing and says, without offering any evidence, that he is a victim of a deep state conspiracy against him.
Popularly known by his childhood nickname, Bibi, Netanyahu is the son of a historian and attended high school and college in the United States, where his father taught.
Never lost for a soundbite, his booming voice has resounded on the world stage since serving as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1984 to 1988.
Entering politics in Israel as a Likud legislator, he became party leader in 1993 and exerted power for decades over Israeli politics.