Far-right party leader Naftali Bennett threw his crucial support on Sunday behind a “unity government” in Israel to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in what would be the end of a political era. Mr. Bennett’s decision, which he announced in a televised address, could enable opposition chief Yair Lapid to put together a coalition of right-wing, centrist, and leftist parties and hand Mr. Netanyahu his first election defeat since 1999. Mr. Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party that finished second to Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud in an inconclusive 23 March national ballot, faces a Wednesday deadline from Israel’s president to announce a new government.
Mr. Lapid’s chances of success have rested largely with Mr. Bennett, a former defense chief and a high-tech millionaire whose Yamina party’s six seats in the 120-member parliament are enough to give him kingmaker status. Under a prospective power-sharing deal, Mr. Bennett would replace Mr. Netanyahu, the 71-year-old head of the Likud Party, as prime minister and later give way to centrist Mr. Lapid in a rotation agreement.
“I am announcing today that I intend to work with all my might towards establishing a unity government with Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid,” Mr. Bennett said in his speech. “It’s either a fifth election or a unity government.” Responding on television to Mr. Bennett’s announcement, Mr. Netanyahu accused him of perpetrating “the fraud of the century”, citing past public promises Mr. Bennett made not to join up with Mr. Lapid. He said a right-wing government was still a possibility.
Israel has held four elections since April 2019 that ended with no clear winner and left Mr. Netanyahu and his rivals short of a parliamentary majority, with the veteran leader remaining in office as head of a caretaker government. The new prospective coalition’s diverse members would have little in common apart from the desire to end the 12-year run of Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader.
Now on trial over corruption charges that he denies. An anti-Netanyahu alliance would be fragile and require outside backing by Arab members of parliament who oppose much of Mr. Bennett’s agenda, which includes more settlement building in the occupied West Bank and its partial annexation. It would be expected to focus on the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic while setting aside issues on which members disagree, such as the role of religion in society and Palestinian aspirations for statehood.