Israel opposition parties announce coalition, form new government

Monday, June 7, 2021


Naftali Bennett in 2013.
Image: Dovereconomy.
(Image missing from Commons: image; log)

Opposition parties to Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, led by Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid informed president Reuven Rivlin of the formation of an eight-party coalition just ahead of Wednesday's midnight deadline, preventing what could have been the country's fifth election in two years.

The "government of change", which Lapid announced had the support of a majority of opposition parties in the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, still needs to pass a parliamentary vote of confidence expected to take place this week. Should it do so, Netanyahu's twelve-year tenure of fifteen years total as Israel's longest-serving prime minister would end, being replaced by head of right-wing party Yamina Naftali Bennett, a staunch advocate for the controversial Israeli settlement in the West Bank and opponent of an independent state of Palestine.

Under the rotation agreement agreed by the eight parties, Bennett will serve as prime minister for the first two years of a four-year term, and Lapid foreign minister, according to CNN. The two men will then swap on August 27, 2023 according to the BBC.

The coalition is comprised of parties with a wide array of interests, including the United Arab List, also known by its Hebrew acronym Ra'am and led by Mansour Abbas, which became the first Arab party in Israeli history to partner in the formation of a government. According to the Associated Press (AP), the agreement secured a number of concessions in Abbas' favour, including legal recognition for villages by the Bedouin minority in southern Israel and a plan to invest ILS30 billion and reduce violent crime in Arab communities.

According to the BBC, the other five parties that ensured a 62-seat majority of a required 61 in the 120-seat Knesset are Blue and White with eight seats and led by Benny Gantz, Yisrael Beiteinu with seven seats and led by Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Labor Party with seven seats and led by Merav Michaeli, New Hope with six seats and led by Gideon Sa'ar and Meretz with six seats and led by Nitzan Horowitz. Yesh Atid has seventeen seats and is the largest opposition party.

The parties have little in common with one another apart than a desire to oust the prime minister.

In announcing the coalition, Lapid promised "[t]his 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". According to the AP, Michaeli said "[t]oday, we succeeded. We made history". A tweet by Gantz translated by The Jerusalem Post called last night one "of great hope". On the decision of the United Arab List to join the coalition, the BBC reported Abbas calling the decision "hard" and with "several disputes but it was important to reach agreements".

Former justice minister Yossi Beilin told Al Jazeera, "The situation in which eight medium and small parties are forming a coalition has never happened before. It will not be easy. [...] 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". Leader of the Religious Zionist Party with six seats in the Knesset Itamar Ben-Gvir tweeted sarcastically "I managed to form a government with supporters of terrorism. Yours, Naftali Bennett".

While Netanyahu has yet to speak on the matter, member for his party of Likud Miki Zohar tweeted "The Left celebrates, but this is a very sad day for the State of Israel." On Sunday, according to CNN and The Guardian, the prime minister called the proposed coalition "a leftwing government dangerous to the state of Israel" and the "fraud of the century", accusing Bennett of being someone who "only cares about himself."

A working coalition was sought by both Netanyahu and the opposition after the 2021 Israeli legislative election this March left neither side with a majority. According to Al Jazeera, Yamina, with seven seats in the Knesset, refused to work with emergent "kingmaker" of the United Arab List with four.