Israel’s opposition agree coalition deal to oust Netanyahu

Announcement came moments before midnight deadline but hurdles remain to new government

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on Wednesday: Photograph:  Ronen Zvulun/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on Wednesday: Photograph: Ronen Zvulun/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

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Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s opponents claim to have reached a deal to form a new governing coalition, paving the way for the removal of the long-time Israeli leader.

The dramatic announcement by opposition leader Yair Lapid and his main coalition partner, Naftali Bennett, came moments before a midnight deadline and prevented the country from plunging into what would have been its fifth consecutive election in just over two years.

Mr Netanyahu’s Likud won the most seats in the March 23rd election, but he was unable to form a majority with his traditional religious and nationalist allies.

Crucially, a far-right party allied with Mr Netanyahu refused to join forces with a small Arab party that emerged as one of the kingmakers in the race.

With 35 minutes left before his 21-day mandate to form a government expired, Mr Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, informed president Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday night that he had managed to cobble together a coalition.

However, it is still not a done deal and it would be premature to declare the end of the era of Mr Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

The coalition, the most bizarre in Israel’s history, will only be sworn in in 12 days’ time.

Twelve days is a long time in Israeli politics and the right, led by Mr Netanyahu, plans to mount a fierce campaign to persuade the right-wing members of the emerging government to change their mind and “return home” to a coalition led by the Likud.

Disputes over the makeup of a committee for appointing high court judges and how the government tackles illegal building in the Arab sector delayed a deal until just before the deadline.

The so-called coalition of change consists of 8 parties from the far-right to the left and the United Arab List, Ra’am, marking the first time an Arab party will join an Israeli government. The only glue keeping the parties together is the desire to end the Netanyahu era and to prevent Israel’s fifth election in two and a half years.

Mr Netanyahu, who has been in power for the last 12 years, has no intention of going without a fight. He has already labelled the coalition a danger to Israel’s security and accused Naftali Bennett, leader of the far-right Yamina party, who will serve first as prime minister in a rotation agreement with Mr Lapid, of deceiving the electorate by joining with the left.

Mr Netanyahu, who is standing trial on serious corruption charges, has failed to form a government after four inconclusive elections.

Coincidently, the Knesset also voted for a new president on Wednesday, electing Yitzhak Herzog to replaced Reuven Rivlin, whose seven-year term expires next month.

Herzog easily defeated Miriam Peretz, a mother of two soldiers who fell in battle and the recipient of the prestigious Israel Prize.

Currently the chair of the Jewish Agency, the body which encourages diaspora Jews to immigrate to Israel, Mr Herzog previously headed the Labour party.

Yitzhak is the son of Chaim Herzog who was born in Belfast and raised in Dublin, Israel’s sixth president who served a decade-long two terms from 1983 to 1993.

Yitzhak (or Isaac in English) Herzog was named after his grandfather, who, before becoming Israel’s first Chef Rabbi, served as Chief Rabbi of Ireland between 1921 and 1936.

A fluent speaker of the Irish language, his grandfather supported the First Dáil and the Irish republican cause during the Irish War of Independence, and became known as “the Sinn Féin Rabbi.” He expressed support for both the Irish Republican Army and the Irgun, the radical paramilitary group led by Menachem Begin who fought the British in mandate Palestine. - Additional reporting AP