Netanyahu’s disparate rivals try to nail down pact to unseat him

Deal that would see far-right Naftali Bennett installed as PM must be agreed by Wednesday

Naftali Bennett at  the Israeli parliament on Sunday. Photograph: Yonatan Sindel/EPA

Naftali Bennett at the Israeli parliament on Sunday. Photograph: Yonatan Sindel/EPA

 

Yair Lapid, head of Israel’s centrist Yesh Atid party, is holding last-minute contacts with potential coalition partners in order to present a new government by a Wednesday deadline.

The emerging coalition will be the most disparate in Israel’s history, consisting of parties from the right, left and centre, with the support of an Arab party, which have little in common except the desire to replace Binyamin Netanyahu as prime minister and prevent Israel going into its fifth election in 2½ years.

In order to clinch a deal Mr Lapid has agreed to rotate the premiership with Naftali Bennett, head of the far-right Yamina party, who will serve as prime minister for the first two years before being replaced by Mr Lapid.

Such a government, to be sworn in early next week, would avoid taking decisions on politically contentious issues, such as the future of West Bank settlements and renewing the peace process with the Palestinians.

If such a government is formed it will mark the end of Mr Netanyahu’s domination of Israeli politics, which began exactly 25 years ago when he defeated Shimon Peres to win his first term as prime minister.

Mr Bennett described the emerging government as a “unity government”, one that would work to heal Israeli society and put a stop to the seemingly endless spate of inconclusive elections.

“For the past 2½ years Israel has been in a tailspin. Over the course of four elections our country has weakened itself and its ability to function,” he said, explaining his decision to form a government with Mr Lapid.

‘Fraud of the century’

Mr Netanyahu accused Mr Bennett of committing the “fraud of the century” by reneging on his campaign promises not to facilitate Mr Lapid’s appointment as prime minister and not to serve in a government that relies on the support of the United Arab List.

“He is rushing into a left-wing government because he wants to be prime minister at any price,” he said, warning of the danger of left-wing politicians sitting in Israel’s security cabinet. “What impact will that have on Israel’s deterrent capability? How will we look to our enemies? What will they say in Iran and Gaza?”

Mr Lapid, speaking on Monday, said the Mr Netanyahu’s speech reinforced the need for a change of leadership.

“It was a dangerous and unhinged speech by someone who has no limits anymore. His weakness weakens us all,” he said. “That’s exactly why we must form the government we’re trying to form.”

Right-wing protesters plan to demonstrate every night outside the home of Yamina Knesset members, hoping the pressure will force them to back down before the government is sworn in.

Police have stepped up security for Yamina leaders.

The right-wing social media campaign is relentless, with members of the coalition being termed “traitors” and “terrorist sympathisers” alongside Photoshop images of Mr Bennett wearing an Arab keffiyeh headscarf.