Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett have put together a governing coalition to oust PM Benjamin Netanyahu, just minutes before time ran out. For the first time in history, an Arab-Israeli party will be on board.
Lapid, who leads the Yesh Atid party, informed President Reuven Rivlin shortly before midnight on Wednesday that he has “succeeded in forming a government” and that his coalition partner Bennett of Yamina “will serve as prime minister first.” Lapid will take over as PM after two years, under the terms of the agreement.
As the clock ticked closer to the statutory deadline to form a new government or face yet another general election, the tipping point seemed to be the coalition agreement with Mansour Abbas of the United Arab Party (Ra’am).
Gideon Saar’s New Hope party added their six to the coalition following the Ra’am announcement. Lapid’s party has 17 seats. It takes 61 to have a governing majority in the 120-member Knesset.
Though Ra’am has only four MKs, their support is a historic development – the first time an Arab party has come on board a ruling coalition.
Yamina’s Bennett was present for the deal, and also signed a coalition agreement with Lapid. They also secured the support of Blue and White, led by current Defense Minister Benny Gantz – his former coalition partner who had accepted a role in Netanyahu’s unity government in May 2020.
If Lapid and Bennett’s razor-thin coalition gets approved by the Knesset, it will hold off the need for yet another general election; Israel has held four over the past two years, repeatedly failing to deliver a majority government. The vote may happen as early as next week, but the current Likud speaker of the Knesset is reportedly pushing for a delay.
Netanyahu, who has been prime minister since 2009, tried to block the coalition between Lapid and Bennett on a technicality, but was overruled by President Rivlin on Tuesday.
Rivlin himself will step down on July 9, when his term ends. Former Labor party head Isaac Herzog was elected to the ceremonial post on Wednesday with 87 votes, beating social activist Miriam Peretz.
Lapid, a former TV presenter and news anchor, founded Yesh Atid in 2012. The following year, Netanyahu brought him on board a unity government as finance minister – but fired him in 2014. The centrist then teamed up with Gantz to challenge Likud, only to fail when the Blue & White leader accepted another unity cabinet in 2020.
The conservative Bennett started his political career in 2006 as Netanyahu’s chief of staff, and held a series of ministerial positions in Likud-led governments between 2013 and 2020 – when he was replaced by Gantz as defense minister and went into the opposition.