© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Bayit Yehudi Party leader Naftali Bennett waves to supporters at his party’s headquarters in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv on Jan 22, 2013. REUTERS / Ronen Zvulun / File Photo
By Dan Williams (NYSE 🙂
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rivals tried Monday to form a unity coalition that would oust the veteran Israeli leader, but political commentators saw a bitter battle ahead.
The centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid secured the support of the ultra-nationalist Naftali Bennett on Sunday for a “change” of government in ideologically diverse rivals.
The deal, in which Bennett would initially serve as Prime Minister in a rotation with Lapid, must be closed by midnight (2200 GMT) Wednesday.
The 71-year-old Netanyahu is the dominant political figure of his generation, and his challengers have little in common – aside from a desire to emerge from his divisive shadow and the unprecedented turmoil that resulted in four deadlocked elections in two years.
Hoping to discredit Bennett and other rights now negotiating with Lapid, Netanyahu has called them the “scam of the century” that would endanger Israel.
Lapid’s answer was reserved.
“In a week, the State of Israel could be in a new era. Suddenly it gets quieter. The ministers will go to work without inciting, without lying, without trying to instill fear all the time, “he said on a television program address.
Although he referred to Bennett as “my friend, the Prime Minister-designate” and expressed hope of an agreement by Wednesday, Lapid warned, “There are still many obstacles to the formation of the new government.”
The Israelis were divided on everything except the stupidity of copying Netanyahu.
“An event took place yesterday whose importance cannot be overestimated. A real possibility has been created … an alternative government in the truest sense of the word,” wrote Sima Kadmon in the Israeli best-selling newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.
IT’S NOT OVER YET
But she added, “It’s not over yet. Long days loom in which Netanyahu will do absolutely anything to shift the momentum.”
Netanyahu faces other problems, most notably a corruption proceeding for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies all allegations.
The veteran Likud party leader is a survivor: he was first elected prime minister in 1996, and returned to power in 2009, where he held top office for more than a decade.
Israel Hayom, a Netanyahu-friendly daily, described Bennett and Gideon Saar, another right-wing, in talks with Lapid as “serving the left.” Netanyahu has kept the door open for them, claiming he is still able to form the next government.
If Bennett and Lapid miss the deadline on Wednesday, parliament can elect a candidate for a new coalition. Should that fail, the country will go to a fifth election.
However, a source briefed on the power-sharing talks between Bennett and Lapid, which includes liberal and left-wing parties, said “significant progress” had been made towards a final deal, adding : “There is much more that connects than divides.” ”
Bennett, a former Secretary of Defense, and Lapid, a former Secretary of the Treasury, both want to invest in education and health and avert the economic malaise caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new coalition, however, is likely to mean a stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with clear political differences between the coalition partners.
Bennett has spoken out in favor of Israel annexing parts of the occupied West Bank, while its future leftist allies could plead for the cession of territories to the Palestinians.
The source, briefed on the talks, said Bennett and Lapid had agreed to bypass the issue: “There will be no annexation, there will be no deprivation of final status.”
“Final status” is a diplomatic term for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement whose negotiations stalled in 2014.
Israel’s financial markets were largely unchanged on Monday, with the shekel remaining at 3.25 per dollar.
Once a coalition is formed, investors expect a 2021 state budget to be passed. Due to the two-year political stalemate, Israel is using a prorated version of the 2019 budget, which was approved in mid-2018.