Israel opposition face deadline to form new government

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Israeli opposition parties have just hours left to form a new government that would end Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year stretch as prime minister.

Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party has made several deals ahead of the midnight (21:00 GMT) deadline.

But crucially he is yet to reach a final agreement with the right-wing nationalist politician Naftali Bennett.

Mr Bennett is expected to become the prime minister ahead of Mr Lapid under a rotation arrangement.

Mr Netanyahu and his Likud party have been appealing to fellow right-wing politicians not to join the coalition, knowing that a new government would still face a vote of confidence in parliament before it could be sworn in.

If it fails to win the support of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, there is a risk of the country having to go to elections for the fifth time in two years.

Opposition leaders said on Wednesday morning that after intense, all-night negotiations they had advanced their efforts to form what is being described as a “government of change”.

Mr Lapid and Mr Bennett were later seen whispering and smiling at a parliamentary session to elect the country’s new president.

Isaac Herzog – a former leader of the centre-left Labour party who currently heads the Jewish Agency, which is responsible for Jewish immigration to Israel – will take over the largely ceremonial role.

Meanwhile, there was a feisty response from Mr Netanyahu when he was asked by a BBC journalist whether this was his last week as prime minister: “is that a wish or a question?” he asked.

As the deadline approached, Israeli media reported that several disagreements were stopping coalition deals being finalised with three parties – Mr Bennett’s Yamina party, the New Hope party of Mr Netanyahu’s former ally Gideon Saar, and the Arab Islamist Raam party.

Raam’s leader, Mansour Abbas, was said to have demanded that the coalition agree to cancel a law that enforces fines on illegal construction that Israeli Arabs say disproportionately targets them.

There was also a disagreement over a position on the Knesset’s judicial appointments committee between Yamina’s deputy leader Ayelet Shaked and the head of the Labour party, Merav Michaeli. Both have offered to rotate the spot, but only if they serve first.

Mr Lapid has already finalised agreements with Labour, the left-wing Meretz party, the centrist Blue and White party of Defence Minister Benny Gantz, and the right-wing nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party of Avigdor Lieberman.

The eight parties have little in common politically apart from their plan to replace Mr Netanyahu. They say he should not remain in office while standing trial on corruption charges, which he denies.

On Sunday, Mr Netanyahu urged right-wing politicians not to join what he called “a left-wing government” that would be “a danger to Israel’s security and future”.

Mr Bennett had earlier accused him of “seeking to take the whole national camp, and the whole country, with him on his personal last stand”.

“Four rounds of elections and [the past] two months proved to us all that there simply is not a right-wing government to be led by Netanyahu. It’s either a fifth election or a unity government,” he said.

The 71-year-old prime minister was given the first chance to form a government after his Likud party won the most seats in March’s inconclusive general election. However, he was unable to do so before his mandate expired last month.

If Mr Lapid does not make Wednesday night’s deadline, the Knesset will have three weeks to agree on a prime ministerial candidate. Otherwise, another general election will be held, continuing a long period of political stalemate.

 

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