JERUSALEM (AP) – The leader of a small hard-core party has said he will try to form a unity government with opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The announcement made by Yamina Party leader Naftali Bennett on Sunday is a key step towards the end of Netanyahu’s 12-year rule.
At a nationally televised press conference, Bennett said he would work to form a unity government with opposition Yair Lapid.
“I intend to do everything possible to form a government of national unity with my friend Yair Lapid, so that God willing we can together save the country from a free fall and bring Israel back to its place. way, ”Bennett said.
He said he made the decision to prevent the country from sliding into a fifth consecutive election in just over two years.
They have until Wednesday to finalize a deal.
THIS IS A CURRENT UPDATE. AP’s previous story is below.
On Sunday, opponents of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to be closing in on a coalition deal that could end the longtime Israeli leader’s 12-year rule.
Naftali Bennett, leader of the small Yamina party and kingmaker after the March 23 election, scheduled a press conference for 8 p.m. where he was to announce his decision to join a diverse group of opponents seeking to overthrow Netanyahu.
Israeli media said party members earlier Sunday approved the decision. If he follows through, Bennett, a former Netanyahu collaborator turned rival, would play a key role in ending the prime minister’s record tenure. Israeli media said Bennett and opposition leader Yair Lapid would agree to a power-sharing deal in which they would alternate the post of prime minister over the next four years.
“The party unanimously supports Bennett and his efforts to establish a government and prevent a fifth election,” the party said in a statement without giving details.
Israel has had four consecutive elections in the past two years. Each election was seen as a referendum on Netanyahu – who has become a polarizing figure in Israeli politics due to his ongoing corruption trial – with each ending in a dead end.
Netanyahu is desperate to stay in power during his trial. He has used his office as a stage to rally support and attack police, prosecutors and the media.
If his opponents fail to form a government and a new election is called, it would give him another chance to see the election of a parliament that favors immunity from prosecution. But if they are successful, he would find himself in the much weaker position of leader of the opposition and potentially find himself facing unrest within his Likud party.
In a statement on Sunday, Netanyahu made a desperate appeal to Bennett to avoid the temptation to join his opponents.
He accused Bennett of deceiving his constituents and abandoning his nationalist principles “all to be prime minister at all costs”.
To form a government, a party leader must gain the support of a majority of 61 seats in parliament. Since no single party controls the majority on its own, coalitions tend to be made up of smaller partners.
As leader of the largest party, Netanyahu was offered the country’s president the first opportunity to form a coalition. But he failed to secure a majority with his traditional religious and nationalist allies.
Netanyahu even attempted to woo a small Islamist Arab party but was thwarted by a small ultranationalist party with a racist anti-Arab agenda. Although Arabs make up around 20% of Israel’s population, an Arab party has never previously sat in an Israeli coalition government.
After Netanyahu’s failure to form a government, Lapid then had four weeks to concoct a coalition. He has until Wednesday to complete the task.
Lapid has already faced a difficult challenge, given the wide range of parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc who have little in common. They include conciliatory left-wing parties, a pair of right-wing nationalist parties, including Bennett’s Yamina, and most likely the Islamist United Arab List.
Lapid’s task was made even more difficult after war broke out with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip on May 10. His coalition talks were suspended for the 11 days of fighting.
But as Wednesday’s deadline approaches, negotiations have shifted into high gear. Lapid has made coalition deals with three other parties so far. If he gets Bennett on board, the remaining partners should quickly fall into place.
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up to become a Founding Member and help shape the next chapter of HuffPost