Israel's Lapid set to unseat Netanyahu, form new government

Defence Minister and leader of Blue and White party Benny Gantz speaks to Yamina leader Naftali Bennett during a special session of the Knesset whereby Israeli lawmakers elect a new president, at the plenum in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem June 2, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Defence Minister and leader of Blue and White party Benny Gantz speaks to Yamina leader Naftali Bennett during a special session of the Knesset whereby Israeli lawmakers elect a new president, at the plenum in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem June 2, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun (Reuters)


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JERUSALEM (Reuters) — Israel's opposition leader moved closer to unseating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday when he officially informed the country's president that he has reached agreements with political allies to form a new government.

About 30 minutes before a midnight deadline, the centrist Yair Lapid, according to a party statement, told President Reuven Rivlin in an email:

"I am honored to inform you that I have succeeded in forming a government." Rivlin, attending Israel's soccer cup final at the time, congratulated Lapid by phone, according to his office.

Lapid's main partner is nationalist Naftali Bennett, who would serve as premier first under a rotation between the two men with Lapid taking over after about two years.

Their coalition government would comprise a patchwork of small and medium parties from across the political spectrum, including for the first time in Israel's history a party that represents Israel's 21% Arab minority.

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett smiles as he speaks to Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, during a special session of the Knesset whereby Israeli lawmakers elect a new president, at the plenum in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem June 2, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett smiles as he speaks to Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, during a special session of the Knesset whereby Israeli lawmakers elect a new president, at the plenum in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem June 2, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

But the fragile new government, which would command a razor-thin majority in parliament, was only expected to be sworn in about 10 days from now, leaving slight room for Netanyahu's camp to try to abort it by turning lawmakers over to their side and vote against it. Israeli political analysts widely expected Netanyahu to try every possible political maneuver to make this happen.

During a 12-year run in top office, Israel's longest-serving leader has been an often polarizing figure at home and abroad. An end to his tenure may bring reprieve from domestic political turmoil, but major shifts in Israel's foreign policy appear less likely from the staunch U.S. ally.

Lapid, a centrist, was given the task of forming a governing coalition after right-wing Netanyahu failed to do so in the wake of a March 23 election.

"This government will work for all Israel's citizens, those who voted for it and those who did not. It will respect its opponents and do all it can to unites and connect all parts of Israeli society," Lapid said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Grant McCool)

© Copyright Thomson Reuters 2021

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