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End for Israel’s Unprecedented Political Deadlock in Sight
This combination of pictures taken on May 5, 2021 shows (L to R) leader of Israel's Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid, and leader of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett, arriving at the Israeli President's Residence in Jerusalem. (Oren Ben Hakoon/AFP via Getty Images)

End for Israel’s Unprecedented Political Deadlock in Sight

Heads of unity government announce agreement, indicating end of Netanyahu’s rule

Israel’s ongoing nightmare appeared to be finally nearing conclusion on Sunday, after right-wing lawmaker Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party approved the chairman’s decision to form a unity government with center-left MP Yair Lapid.

The dramatic development, considered virtually impossible less than a week ago, comes just three days before Lapid’s time to form a government runs out and Israel is plunged into its fifth election cycle in two and a half years.

The party unanimously backs Bennett in his attempts to establish a government and prevent a fifth election

“Bennett presented the party members with the events of the recent days, and his efforts to form a stable, functioning government for Israel,” the party’s spokesperson told The Media Line via a statement.

“The party unanimously backs Bennett in his attempts to establish a government and prevent a fifth election.”

One Yamina member who has in recent weeks “gone rogue” and declared he would oppose any unity pact with Lapid, did not attend the meeting.

Despite some significant hurdles still remaining before a Bennett-Lapid rotational unity coalition is sworn in – chief among them the expected dogfight over coveted portfolios and ministerial roles – the announcement of such a pairing is expected to be made to President Reuven Rivlin in a matter of days, perhaps even hours.

Bennett will head the projected government during its first two years, after which he will switch with Lapid for the remaining two. It will consist of a slew of parties ranging from the minuscule (Bennett’s six-seat Yamina) to the medium-sized (Lapid’s 17-seat Yesh Atid party) and span the entire political and ideological spectrum.

If such a tricky arrangement does come to fruition, it will be the first government in over 12 years not to include Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at its helm.

The embattled premier, standing trial for charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, on Sunday reminded his challengers he would not go down without a fight.

“We’ve reached a defining moment for Israel’s security, identity and future. At such moments, all personal considerations must be put aside and radical, unprecedented steps must be taken. We’ve just tendered a proposal that will prevent a dangerous left-wing government and ensure a right-wing one,” Netanyahu said in a video released to his followers just before Yamina’s crucial meeting Sunday.

The prime minister was referring to a last-ditch offer of a three-way rotational government submitted to Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar, another right-wing party head who, like Bennett, vowed to unseat Netanyahu in the March elections.

Yet after signing a rotation agreement last year with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and failing to keep his word, not many buyers are left for the prime minister’s assurances.

Our position and commitment were and remain: replacing Netanyahu’s regime. We will continue to act accordingly. A warm tip for the coming days: Ignore the spins

Sa’ar, a former Likud member who abandoned the party in December while accusing Netanyahu of cultivating a “cult-like environment,” responded moments after the prime minister’s plea was made public.

“Our position and commitment were and remain: replacing Netanyahu’s regime. We will continue to act accordingly. A warm tip for the coming days: Ignore the spins,” he tweeted.

The two right-wing markers of Bennett and Sa’ar, who will bring along a total of 12 lawmakers, will be joined by Avigdor Liberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party (7), Gantz’s centrist Blue and White (8), Lapid’s center-left Yesh Atid (17), Merav Michaeli’s left-wing Labor (7) and the far-left Meretz party (6) headed by Nitzan Horowitz.

The mishmash-type coalition, whose central unifying goal is unseating Netanyahu and putting an end to the endless political and social turmoil, will be backed by the United Arab List (4), chaired by Mansour Abbas.

Such a situation usually occurs in circumstances where the political system is at a dead end and a compromise candidate is appointed. While this is not an ideal situation, it may be preferable to the reality of prolonged political deadlock

“Prime ministers in parliamentary democracies most often come from large parties, but the possibility of a government headed by someone from a small party certainly exists,” says prof. Ofer Kenig of the Israel Democracy Institute.

“Such a situation usually occurs in circumstances where the political system is at a dead end and a compromise candidate is appointed. While this is not an ideal situation, it may be preferable to the reality of prolonged political deadlock.”

Examples of such governments, prof. Kenig says, can be currently found in Belgium and Latvia, and in the past headed several other European countries.

“In Latvia, [the prime minister] is serving on behalf of a new Unity List that in the last election received only 8 out of 100 seats – that is, the smallest party in parliament,” he told The Media Line.

Only a few days ago, things looked much bleaker for the anti-Netanyahu bloc.

As the recent round of fighting in and around Gaza between Israel and Hamas heated up earlier this month, Bennett rushed to terminate negotiations with Lapid and declared any collaboration with parliament’s left-wing parties “impossible.”

Lapid, who in early May was granted a month by President Rivlin to establish a government, said last week that “chances aren’t high” for forming a coalition.

Yet with the Wednesday deadline for the former opposition chairman fast approaching, the final weekend of May brought about some major shifts, as Bennett and, to a larger extent, his longtime political partner Ayelet Shaked, were forced to choose between heading the complicated unity government or plunging the nation into a fifth election cycle.

While the monumental political leap will likely mean a large swath of Netanyahu loyalists may never vote for him again, Bennett, a former aid and close ally to the prime minister, is banking on other sectors, namely the more moderate Israeli center-right, flocking to his side after a successful two years in office.

With at least a week remaining until their government is actually sworn in, and with their highly determined, desperate, and experienced rival still holding the most powerful office in the land, Bennett and Lapid will attempt to safely navigate the critical days ahead, as they look to join hands and pry Israel out of the unprecedented crisis.

This time, it appears they might actually have a shot.

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