TEL AVIV – Leaders of two of Israel’s main opposition parties said they would work together to form a coalition government on Sunday, which could see Benjamin Netanyahu overthrow his post as prime minister for the first time in 12 years.
Naftali Bennett, leader of the small religious and nationalist Yamina party, and opposition leader Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party, said they had joined forces.
“For the past two years, Israel has been in a circle of elections, leadershipless internal fighting,” Bennett said in a television ad on Sunday. ” This will not happen again. We can stop this and take control. There is no option for a right-wing government led by Netanyahu – it’s either a change of government or a new election.
“No one believes Netanyahu anymore,” Bennett added. “At this critical moment, I say that I intend to form a government of national unity with Lapid.”
Yesh Atid said on Friday that he also made deals with the left-wing Israeli Meretz party; the New Hope Party, an intransigent nationalist faction made up mostly of former allies of Netanyahu; and the Social Democratic Labor Party, which ruled the country for decades after the country was founded in 1948.
Teams from both sides are expected to meet in the evening and resume negotiations to form a unity government, according to a statement from Yesh Atid.
Netanyahu appeared on TV Sunday after the announcement, saying Bennett shouldn’t be taken seriously because he only wants to be prime minister and “zigzag”.
“What will Iran say when they see this leftist government?” Will they fight Hamas? Netanyahu said. “He is a con artist. This is not a national unity government, it is an anti-Zionist government. He is a government con artist and we should not allow this to happen.”
At least 61 seats of the 120 seats in the Knesset, or parliament, are needed to form a majority. A 28-day mandate for Lapid to form a new government reportedly expired on Wednesday.
Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday that he had signed a “far-reaching” proposal for Bennett and New Hope Party leader Gideon Saar to “prevent the establishment of a dangerous left-wing government.” This would allow the two to serve as prime minister, he said.
Bennett, a former defense minister, did not comment on his announcement.
The new coalition comes just days after the ceasefire that ended an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas that left dozens of people dead.
Violence erupted amid a power vacuum in Israel after an election in March – the fourth in two years – yielded no clear winner.
Despite repeated meetings with his rivals and unprecedented contacts with the leader of a small Islamist Arab party, Netanyahu missed the deadline to form a new governing coalition earlier this month.
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Netanyahu, 71, has been at the helm since 2009, but his legal issues in recent years have eclipsed his legacy. Last month saw the start of a major bribery trial against him for fraud, bribery and breach of trust. He denied any wrongdoing and said he was the victim of a “witch hunt”.
Netanyahu will likely remain at the helm of his Likud party as leader of the opposition.
Over the years he has become a divisive figure in Israeli politics, alienating a long list of former allies during his long tenure. In the last election, three parties were led by former senior officials who fell out with him.
The new government is expected to be sworn in as early as June 8, Israel’s Channel 12 reported ahead of the announcement.
He said Bennett would serve as prime minister for the first two years and three months of the rotating government. Then Lapid would take over in September 2023 for the final two years and three months.
Paul Goldman reported from Tel Aviv and Yuliya Talmazan from London.
The Associated Press and Doha madani contributed.