Israeli Parties Struggling to Form a Government as Deadline Looms

Potential coalition partners are digging in, but leaders insist a deal to form a new government will be reached by midnight in Israel.


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Central issues are hanging up Israeli coalition talks.

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 struggled to complete negotiations to form a coalition government ahead of a midnight deadline on Wednesday, delaying efforts 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.

Even 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 hard-right 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 also hinges on the support of a small Arab party, Raam, which has refused to commit to a deal without being given assurances of greater resources and rights for Israel’s Arab minority, including reforms to housing legislation that potential hard-right coalition partners deem unacceptable.

While some analysts say the putative coalition reflects 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 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.

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