Israeli nationalist hardliner Naftali Bennett has said he will join a governing coalition that could end the rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving leader.
“I will do everything to form a national unity government with my friend Yair Lapid,” Bennett said after meeting his right-wing party.
Centrist Lapid is tasked with forming a new government by Wednesday.
In response to the move, Benjamin Netanyahu said that a potential coalition government would be a “threat” to his country’s security.
Netanyahu, 71, who is facing trial for fraud, bribery and breach of trust, which he denies, clung to power during a period of political turmoil that has seen four inconclusive elections in less than two years.
After a vote in March in which Netanyahu’s Likud party won the most seats but failed again to form a government, former TV anchor Yair Lapid is now trying to build a rival coalition.
Center Lapid faces until Wednesday to form a coalition of at least 61 lawmakers, a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
The 57-year-old is seeking to form a diverse coalition that the Israeli media has called the “Change” bloc, which will include Bennett in addition to Arab Israeli MPs.
Determined to bring down the prime minister, Lapid offered to share power and allow Bennett, 49, to serve the first term in the rotating premiership.
Netanyahu, who held the post for 12 years in a row after an earlier three-year term, tried to hold on to power on Sunday by offering his latest power-sharing deal to several former allies including Bennett.
He warned that Israel would be ruled otherwise by a dangerous “left” coalition.
The Lapid government will also include the centrist Blue and White party led by Benny Gantz and the New Hope party of Gideon Saar, a former Netanyahu ally.
He will also join the pro-settlement “Israel Our Home” party led by Avigdor Lieberman, as well as the historically strong Labor Party and the dovish Meretz party.
This shaky arrangement will have the support of some Arab Israeli lawmakers of Palestinian origin to pass a vote in Parliament.
The intense talks come after weeks of escalating tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, including a deadly 11-day exchange of rocket fire from Gaza and devastating Israeli air strikes.
The war with Hamas that ended with the May 21 armistice, combined with the tensions in the occupied West Bank and in the mixed cities of Jews and Arabs in Israel, seemed to make Netanyahu more inclined to stay in power.
But political analyst Gayle Telsher at the Hebrew University told AFP Sunday that Israel was “closer than ever” to the Change Coalition, adding that “Netanyahu is in a desperate situation.”
Netanyahu’s Likud party won 30 seats in the March elections, but failed to form a governing coalition after its far-right partners refused to sit with Arab factions or receive their support.
Lapid, whose party won 17 seats, was then given four weeks to form the government.
Netanyahu had previously pushed for another election, the fifth since April 2019.
“Now that he sees the possibility of a coalition announcing a change this evening or tomorrow, he should go ahead with a more serious deal,” Talcher told AFP.
On Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu offered a rotation agreement to Bennett and Saar. But Sarr on Twitter said he remained committed to “replacing the Netanyahu regime.”
Then Netanyahu called in a video clip that Bennett walked to “come now, immediately” to meet him and join a tripartite rotating government, warning that they are “at a crucial moment for the security, personality and future of the State of Israel.”
The “change” coalition led by Lapid still faces many obstacles.
Some right-wing lawmakers object to a partnership with politicians from the Arab minority in Israel, about a fifth of the population.
The recent conflict in Gaza has sparked sectarian clashes between Israeli Jews and Arabs in mixed cities.
Arab politicians are also divided over joining a government headed by Bennett, which supports the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, as the Palestinians hope for a future state.
Even with the support of an Arab party, it is unlikely that a new coalition in Israel will undo years of Israeli settlement building or achieve peace anytime soon with Hamas in Gaza.
If the anti-Netanyahu camp does not succeed in forming a government on time, a majority of 61 deputies can vote to demand the president appoint a new prime minister.
The other scenario is for the country to prepare for another general election – the fifth Israeli election in little more than two years.