© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at an official ceremony marking Israel’s Remembrance Day, which commemorates fallen soldiers and Israeli victims of hostile attacks, at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem on April 14, 2021. Ma
By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel was gripped by political drama on Sunday over the possibly imminent end of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s record as head of the country.
After four inconclusive parliamentary elections in two years, a 28-day term for opposition leader Yair Lapid to form a new government ends Wednesday, and media have said he is on the verge of forming a coalition which would end Netanyahu’s 12-year term. Prime Minister.
Lapid’s chances of success lie largely with far-right politician Naftali Bennett, a kingmaker whose Yamina party holds six key seats in parliament.
Bennett, 49, was expected to announce, perhaps as early as Sunday, whether he would team up with Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party.
But first, Bennett would have to rally lawmakers from his own party to join what Netanyahu’s opponents have described as a “change” government comprising left, center and right factions.
Still short of a parliamentary majority after a deadlocked March 23 election, such a diverse group could be fragile and would require external support from Arab parliamentarians whose political views differ markedly from Yamina’s.
Bennett has maintained public silence in recent days, with Likud leader Netanyahu fueling speculation that his own term was about to end on Friday in a tweet and video. “Real Alert,” he wrote, warning that a dangerous “left” administration was in the cards.
Yamina announced on Saturday night that Bennett would meet and brief his lawmakers on Sunday, after learning he had agreed to a deal in which he would first serve as prime minister before handing over to centrist Lapid.
Former defense minister Bennett turned the tide before ousting Netanyahu, 71, a right-wing leader in power consecutively since 2009 and now on trial on corruption charges he denies.
With a deal with Lapid reportedly finalized just before fighting broke out on May 10 between militants in Israel and Gaza, Bennett said during hostilities he was abandoning efforts to form a coalition with the center and left.
But a ceasefire is in place, a recent wave of street violence in Israel between Arabs and Jews has subsided, and a Lapid-Bennett partnership may resume.
However, Israeli political commentators took nothing for granted.
“The anti-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of change is still not a done deal,” political columnist Yossi Verter wrote in the left-wing Haaretz newspaper on Sunday.
“It is premature to open the champagne, and also too early to carry a bag,” he said, wondering if Yamina’s lawmakers could resist pressure from the right against a deal with Lapid.
If Lapid, 57, fails to announce a government by Wednesday, a fifth Israeli election since April 2019 – a prospect Bennett said he wants to avoid – is likely.
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