Opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday called for a quick vote in parliament to formally end his long reign, hoping to prevent any last-minute attempts by the prime minister to derail their newly announced coalition government.
The latest political maneuvers began just hours after opposition leader Yair Lapid and his main coalition partner Naftali Bennett said they had reached an agreement to form a new government and muster a majority in the 120-member parliament, or Knesset.
The coalition is made up of eight parties from all political backgrounds with the common goal of toppling Netanyahu after a record 12 years in power. The alliance includes hard-line supporters previously allied with Netanyahu, as well as center-left parties and even an Arab faction – a first in Israeli politics.
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Netanyahu lashed out at his enemies on Thursday, signaling that he would continue to exert pressure on former ideological allies who joined the Lapid-Bennett coalition. “All members of the Knesset who were elected with right-wing voices must oppose this dangerous left-wing government,” he wrote on Twitter.
The anti-Netanyahu bloc announced the coalition deal just ahead of a deadline of midnight on Wednesday. The deal has sparked a complex process that is expected to expand over the next week.
The coalition has a minimal majority of 61 votes in parliament. Now the question is whether the group’s votes will stand together to nominate a new speaker of parliament. The speaker would preside over a Knesset vote needed to confirm the new government.
The current speaker of parliament is an ally of Netanyahu who could use his position to delay the vote and give Netanyahu more time to sabotage the coalition.
As the Lapid-Bennett coalition has been forming in recent days, Netanyahu and his supporters have stepped up a lobbying campaign against former hawkish allies, including Bennett and his Yamina Party number 2, Ayelet Shaked.
Netanyahu accused them of betraying right-wing values. His supporters launched vicious social media campaigns and organized loud protests outside Shaked’s home. The prime minister’s Likud party also announced a protest Thursday night outside the home of Yamina MP Nir Orbach, urging him to quit the coalition.
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This is a foretaste of the pressure to be expected for right-wing lawmakers. And some on the left now have time to wonder if they will pay for this partnership in the next election.
“There will be a lot of pressure, especially on the right, especially on the religious right,” said Gideon Rahat, professor of political science at the Hebrew University. “They will go to the synagogue and people will pressure them. It will be a nightmare for some of them.
Netanyahu and his supporters called a meeting later Thursday to discuss their next steps.
Under the coalition agreement, Lapid and Bennett will share the post of prime minister on a rotational basis. Bennett, a former ally of Netanyahu, is due to serve the first two years, while Lapid is due to serve the last two years – although he is far from certain their fragile coalition will last that long.
The landmark deal also includes a small Islamist party, the United Arab List, which would make it the first Arab party to be part of a governing coalition.
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Netanyahu, desperate to stay in power as he battles corruption charges, is expected to do everything possible in the coming days to prevent the new coalition from seizing power. If he fails, he will be pushed into opposition.
The deal comes at a tumultuous time for Israel, which waged an 11-day war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip last month while suffering mass violence between Jews and Arabs in cities across the country. The country is also emerging from a coronavirus crisis that has caused profound economic damage and exposed tensions between the secular majority and the ultra-Orthodox minority.
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