Netanyahu Down but Not Out After Rivals Ink Government Agreement
Israel’s embattled prime minister has few options remaining as disparate coalition of parties prepares to unseat him
Opponents of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu moved one step closer on Wednesday to unseating the long-serving premier, when barely half an hour before a midnight deadline, Netanyahu’s former aide and ally, Naftali Bennett, and the leader of the center-left bloc and former opposition chair, Yair Lapid, informed President Reuven Rivlin they had managed to form a coalition.
The declaration, which had been dragged out for days and was far from certain even late Wednesday evening, serves as a major advancement for the anti-Netanyahu coalition, which has been unable to best the veteran politician.
While managing to prevent the prime minister from forming his own government for two straight years and four election cycles, the parties looking to oust Netanyahu had, prior to Wednesday, failed to present a majority coalition of their own.
“I have successfully concluded the task of forming a government, Mr. President,” Lapid, who had been afforded one month to establish his government, told Rivlin by phone minutes before midnight.
“I pledge this government will work for every citizen of Israel, those who voted for it and those who didn’t. It will respect its opponents and do all it can to unite and connect the Israeli society,” Lapid also said.
The significant development, however, far from seals Netanyahu’s fate.
With the Knesset out of session Thursday through Sunday, next Monday will be the first opportunity for Lapid to present his designated government to Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin.
By rule, Levin, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party and a staunch Netanyahu loyalist, will then have one week to convene parliament for the fateful swearing-in vote, in which the future government needs a simple majority among the 120 lawmakers to pass.
The rocky, patchwork coalition, consisting of far-right, centrist, and far-left parties, will therefore have to hold for another week and a half before assuming office and dethroning Netanyahu.
“He’ll fight till the last second. Bibi is the best there is at dismantling his opposition, though this looks like his toughest challenge yet,” Nadav Strauchler, a strategic adviser and Netanyahu’s head of media operations during the 2019 election campaign, told The Media Line.
“He’s already identified the weak links, and now it’s just a matter of applying pressure – calling their friends, their family, their rabbis, protesting outside their homes. He’ll try to woo them with enticing offers,” Strauchler said.
The intended Bennett-Lapid government’s soft spot appears to be Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party, made of former West Bank settlement leaders and conservative lawmakers.
After years of operating safely from within Netanyahu’s camp, the transition to a unity government together with left-wing parties, which will remove Netanyahu from office, has led Yamina party members to face significant pressure from their own voter base.
He’ll fight till the last second. Bibi is the best there is at dismantling his opposition, though this looks like his toughest challenge yet
On Thursday morning, a Yamina Knesset member, the second in two weeks, signaled he would not support his party leader’s government, dealing a serious blow to Bennett and Lapid’s hopes and leaving the “change” coalition dangerously close to collapse.
Regardless, Netanyahu, who is currently standing trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, is now closer to defeat than at any point since retaking office in 2009.
“When we lost the ‘99 elections, he quit, but he knew all along it was in order to return ten years later,” Aviv Bushinsky, a former adviser to Netanyahu in his first term as prime minister, told The Media Line
“I don’t think he’ll do the same now, if indeed he’s done. He will stay in parliament, as opposition chairman, because he assumes this government won’t last long and, ideologically speaking, he can easily attack its agenda and score points on the right.”
“In a way, it can even work in his favor,” Bushinsky explains. “Most of these right-wing players in this strange government will be obliterated if it disintegrates too soon, and Netanyahu will be left standing alone as the undisputed leader of the right.”