Midnight deadline approaches for Israeli coalition to unite and challenge Netanyahu

Israel: Yair Lapid says he has formed coalition government to oust Benjamin Netanyahu

Midnight deadline approaches for Israeli coalition to unite and challenge Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's opponents have announced they have reached a deal to form a new governing coalition, paving the way for the ouster of the longtime Israeli leader.

Once it is confirmed by the 120-member Knesset legislature, it would end the long reign of the right-wing leader who has long dominated Israeli politics.

"I commit to you Mr. President, that this government will work to serve all the citizens of Israel including those who aren't members of it, will respect those who oppose it, and do everything in its power to unite all parts of Israeli society", Lapid pledged.

Under the coalition deal, Lapid, leader of the centrist party of Yesh Atid, and Bennett, leader of the nationalist party of Yamina, will rotate the premiership, with Bennett, 49, serving first as prime minister, and Lapid taking over after about two years. "With the help of God we will do together what is good for Israel and we'll get Israel back on track", Bennett told Israel's President Reuven Rivlin after Lapid had informed Rivlin of their coalition. Should last-minute defections scupper the "change" alliance, Israel would likely have to hold yet another election, the fifth in just over two years.

The premier and leader of the conservative Likud party, who served an earlier three-year term in the 1990s, has always been the dominant figure of Israeli politics and was close to former USA president Donald Trump.

In order to build the anti-Netanyahu bloc, Lapid must sign individual agreements with seven parties.

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As leader of the largest party, Netanyahu was given the first opportunity by the country's figurehead president to form a coalition.

Netanyahu - who was also prime minister from 1996 to 1999 - has been an often polarizing figure at home and overseas. Gantz, who tweeted it was a "night of great hope", headed to Washington for pre-scheduled talks Thursday on Iran with USA officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken. It includes the membership of a small Arab party called Raam, which would become the first Arab group to join a right-leaning coalition in Israeli history.

It is only the second time in Israeli history that an Arab party will play a role in a Zionist government, and the first time one has officially joined a coalition.

Herzog, 60, is a former head of Israel's Labor Party and opposition leader who unsuccessfully ran against Netanyahu in the 2015 parliamentary elections.

Mr Lapid was tasked with forming a government by Mr Rivlin after Mr Netanyahu failed to put together his own coalition following March elections, the fourth inconclusive vote in less than two years.

Netanyahu has denied all wrongdoing and says, without offering any evidence, that he is a victim of a deep state conspiracy against him.

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This disparate grouping shares a single common goal: the removal of Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving PM, now on trial for corruption, from office.

If he were to lose power, he would not be able to push through changes to basic laws that could give him immunity, and would lose control over certain justice ministry nominations.

Amid the political deadlock, parliament on Wednesday elected Isaac Herzog, a veteran politician and the scion of a prominent Israeli family, as the country's next president. Netanyahu clinched historic normalisation agreements with four Arab states and unrolled a hugely successful Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

But he has not engaged in substantive peace talks with the Palestinians, who have been angered by a boom in expansion of Israel's West Bank settlements under Netanyahu's watch.

The last-minute talks also follow a flare-up of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, which ended after 11 days of deadly violence with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on May 21.

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