Israeli Parties Struggling to Form a Government as Deadline Looms
Just Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party is left holding out, but leaders insist that a deal to form a new government will be reached by midnight in Israel.
With just one party left to sign, Israel deal is near.
June 2, 2021, 12:04 p.m. ET
Naftali Bennett, left, and Yair Lapid in Parliament on Wednesday. The two would split a term as prime minister if their negotiations succeed.Credit…Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
Opposition leaders raced to complete a coalition government ahead of a midnight deadline on Wednesday, trying to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and end a two-year political impasse that has left Israel without a stable government or state budget.
If an agreement is reached in time, and if Parliament ratifies it in a confidence vote in the coming days, that would bring down the curtain — if perhaps only for an intermission — on the premiership of Mr. Netanyahu. He has been the country’s longest-serving prime minister, for 12 years consecutively and 15 years overall, and he has defined contemporary Israel more than any other recent leader.
Failure to make the deadline would make it more likely that Israelis would soon face their fifth national elections in just over two years.
Following weeks of deadlock, a small Arab Islamist party whose support is crucial to any future government, agreed to join the coalition, making it the first Arab party in Israeli history to support a right-leaning political bloc. Half an hour later, a small hard-right party, New Hope, also announced it had joined the bloc.
With less than 60 minutes before the deadline, that left the coalition waiting on just the hard-right Yamina party — whom Israeli news media reported was close to signing up.
If it is formed, the new coalition would be an unusual and awkward alliance between up to eight political parties from a diverse array of ideologies, from the left to the far right, which analysts expect will struggle to last a full term. In a harbinger of tensions to come, talks stalled on Wednesday after a disagreement over whether Ayelet Shaked, a Yamina lawmaker and a proponent of judicial changes that are opposed by the left, would be allowed to join a committee that appoints new judges.
For their part, some leftist and centrist ministers are expected to rile their right-wing coalition partners by focusing on police reform or by blocking settlement expansion.
The coalition’s success hinges on the support of the Arab party, Raam, which only committed to a deal after being given assurances of greater resources and rights for Israel’s Arab minority — policies that potential hard-right coalition partners find problematic.
While some analysts say the putative coalition reflects the breadth and complexity of contemporary Israeli society, others say its members are too incompatible for their compact to last, and consider it the embodiment of Israel’s political dysfunction.
The alliance would be led until 2023 by Yamina’s party chief, Naftali Bennett, a former settler leader and standard-bearer for the religious right, who opposes a Palestinian state and wants Israel to annex the majority of the occupied West Bank. He is a former ally of Mr. Netanyahu often described as more right-wing than the prime minister.
If the government lasts a whole term, it would then be led between 2023 and 2025 by Yair Lapid, a centrist former television host considered a standard-bearer for secular Israelis.