Netanyahu opponents reach deal to form new government

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's opponents announced they have reached a deal to form a new governing coalition, paving the way for the ouster of the longtime Israeli leader.

If the coalition is approved by a vote in Israel's parliament next week, Mr Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years before handing the reins to Mr Lapid. The move was meant to prevent Levin from stalling on a vote of confidence in the new government and to ensure that it happened next week, rather than the week after that.

The premier, who served an earlier three-year term in the 1990s, has always been the dominant figure of Israeli politics and was close to former U.S. president Donald Trump.

Likud's lawyers yesterday tried to hobble the emerging coalition by challenging Bennett's right to serve first as prime minister, given that it was Lapid who was charged with forming the government.

"We nearly lost our hope and we hope that now after these two very hard years we will have an awesome new era that will finally bring our hope back to Israel", Kostukovksy told AFP.

In a historic moment, the small Islamist party United Arab List also made a decision to join the coalition, the first time an Arab-Israeli party has joined a coalition.

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. If it goes through, Lapid and a diverse array of partners that span the Israeli political spectrum will end the record-setting 12-year rule of Netanyahu.

"All lawmakers who were elected by right-wing voters must oppose this risky left-wing government", Netanyahu wrote on Twitter, signaling a strategy of putting relentless pressure on members of the parliament, or Knesset, who have teamed up with their ideological opposites in an attempt to push him out of office.

Netanyahu, who has yet to respond to Lapid's announcement, controls 30 seats in the 120-member parliament, nearly twice as many as Lapid's Yesh Atid party, and he is allied with at least three other religious and nationalist parties.

Lapid called on Levin to convene the Knesset for the vote as soon as possible.

During his tenure as prime minister, Netanyahu has been a polarising figure at home and overseas.

Despite a long list of achievements, including last year's groundbreaking diplomatic agreements with four Arab countries, he has become a polarizing figure since he was indicted on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in 2019.

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Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamic conservative Raam party, which has four seats, has generally voiced openness to any arrangement that improves living conditions for Israel's 20 per cent Arab minority of Palestinian descent.

Several of the bloc's remaining members said they would vote to oppose a government headed by Bennett.

Far-right lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich, head of the pro-Netanyahu Religious Zionism party, attacked the coalition's dependence on the votes of Arab lawmakers, accusing Bennett of cooperating with "a terrorism supporter who identifies with Israel's enemies".

"I succeeded", Lapid, a former TV news anchor, wrote on Facebook.

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid delivers a speech following the announcement of exit polls in Israel's general election at his party's headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 24, 2021.

Allies of Mr Netanyahu lashed out at the coalition. Yesh Atid has been in the opposition since 2015 elections.

Negotiations were held up as Bennett's party, Yamina, haggled over control of a panel that appoints judges. In order to secure the required parliamentary majority, Lapid had to bring together eight parties that have little in common.

The centrist Blue and White party of Defence Minister Benny Gantz, the historically powerful Labor party and the dovish Meretz party would also join.

Two other Arab Israeli parties have already accused Abbas of selling out.

The United Arab List was also negotiating to join the coalition. During the recent election campaign, Bennett had publicly vowed never to share power with Lapid or an Arab party.

A source involved in the coalition talks said the proposed new government would try to retain consensus by avoiding hot-button ideological issues such as whether to annex or cede occupied West Bank territory that Palestinians want for a state. Thirteen parties of various sizes are in the current parliament.

On the right, the new coalition includes the hawkish New Hope party of Mr Netanyahu's former ally Gideon Saar, and secular nationalist Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party.

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