Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid has informed the country’s president that he can form a coalition government, a move that would bring an end to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12 years in power.
Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, was tasked with forming a government by President Reuven Rivlin after Netanyahu again failed to put together his own coalition following Israel’s fourth election in less than two years.
In a statement shared on Twitter on Wednesday, Lapid said he had informed Rivlin of the deal.
“This government will work for all the citizens of Israel, those that voted for it and those that didn’t. It will do everything to unite Israeli society,” he said shortly before a midnight deadline
Lapid, a former TV presenter and a secular centrist, won the crucial support of hardline religious-nationalist Naftali Bennett, a technology multi-millionaire who has held a number of government portfolios including the defence ministry, on Sunday.
Under the coalition agreement, Bennett and Lapid would rotate the role of prime minister, with Bennett taking up the post for the first two years and Lapid the final two.
The agreement still needs to be voted on in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, where it requires majority support before the government can be sworn in. The vote is expected to be held within seven to 12 days, The Washington Post newspaper reported.
Israel’s latest political drama adds to the woes of Netanyahu, who is on trial for criminal charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust while in office – accusations he denies.
After losing the job of prime minister, he will not be able to push through changes to basic laws that could give him immunity and will lose control over certain justice ministry nominations.
Netanyahu’s Likud won the most seats in the March 23 election but he was unable to form a majority with his natural allies. Crucially, Bennett’s far-right party – allied with Netanyahu – refused to join forces with the United Arab List, a party that emerged as a kingmaker of sorts.
Unlikely allies unite
The coalition would consist of a patchwork of ideologically opposed parties and would include a party that represents Palestinian citizens of Israel for the first time in Israeli history.
Mansour Abbas, who leads the United Arab List, signed on to the coalition less than two hours before Wednesday’s deadline was set to expire.
“We promised that we would be the last ones to agree and sign the document. This is what we did. We understand that all the other parties have joined the process. We have seen that all the other parties have signed the document,” Abbas said.
Deals were also clinched with the centrist Blue and White party, led by Benny Gantz, who would remain defence minister in the new cabinet; the left-wing Meretz and centre-left Labour parties, as well as with former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party.
Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from West Jerusalem, said there were questions about how long the new government would remain united.
“It is an alliance between eight parties that go from the left to the far right, with advocates of illegal settlement activity and expansion, to proponents of the two-state solution, so [these are] people who don’t really have anything in common except the desire to oust Netanyahu,” she said.
“That’s the glue of this coalition – how long that glue can keep them together is what a lot of Israelis are wondering.”
Yossi Beilin, a former justice minister, welcomed the announcement but warned difficulties may lie ahead. “The situation in which eight medium and small parties are forming a coalition has never happened before. It will not be easy. Netanyahu is still around,” he told Al Jazeera.
“We should cross our fingers and hope that this government will not only oust Netanyahu, but it will also be able to perform and to be sustainable,” Beilin said.
Netanyahu, in power for the past 12 years, has sought to discredit Bennett and other rightists negotiating with Lapid, saying they were endangering Israel’s security.