President Reuven Rivlin announced his decision on live television on Wednesday, a day after Netanyahu failed to concoct a governing coalition before midnight.
Rivlin spent the day consulting with all parties elected to the Israeli parliament and announced that he believed Lapid had the best chance of forming a coalition, as the former finance minister had the promised support of 56 of the 120 members of parliament. – still below a majority. .
Rivlin said that “it is clear that Knesset member Yair Lapid has a chance to form a government that will gain the confidence of the Knesset, even though the difficulties are many.”
In a statement accepting the nomination, Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party, said he aimed to establish a left, right and center government “that will reflect the fact that we do not hate each other.”
But Lapid, 57, has ruled out serving in a government with Netanyahu, citing the criminal indictment against the prime minister.
Lapid, whose late father was a cabinet minister and who is himself a seasoned journalist and politician, now has four weeks to strike a deal with potential partners.
As Lapid faces a difficult task, he now has the chance to make history by ending the reign of Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. Netanyahu has held the post for a total of 15 years, of which the last 12.
Lapid entered parliament in 2013 after a successful career as a newspaper columnist, TV presenter and author. His new Yesh Atid party waged a successful rookie campaign, winning Lapid the powerful post of finance minister.
But he and Netanyahu didn’t get along, and the coalition quickly collapsed. Yesh Atid has been in opposition since the 2015 election. The party is popular with secular middle-class voters and has criticized Netanyahu’s close ties to ultra-Orthodox parties and said the prime minister should step down during his term of office. corruption trial.
The elections held on March 23 stalled for the fourth consecutive time in the past two years. Despite repeated encounters with many of his rivals and unprecedented outreach to the leader of a small Israeli-Palestinian Islamist party, Netanyahu was unable to strike a deal.
Rivlin, whose position is primarily ceremonial, is responsible for appointing a party leader to form a government after each election. He gave Netanyahu the first chance after 52 lawmakers approved him as prime minister last month. This was far from a majority of 61 seats, but the highest number for any party leader.
In Wednesday’s consultations, the pro-Netanyahu bloc, made up of 52 members, asked Rivlin not to choose another candidate and instead ask parliament to choose a prime minister. In a statement, Netanyahu’s Likud said such a move “would save another period of uncertainty for the State of Israel.”
But Rivlin rejected the proposal, saying it “would take us to the fifth election without exhausting all options to form a government.”
Lapid, who received the backing of some 56 lawmakers on Wednesday, has already offered a power-sharing deal to Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Yamina party. Under the proposal, the two men would share the Prime Minister’s job on a rotation, with Bennett taking the post first.
Bennett, a former ally of Netanyahu turned rival, controls just seven seats in parliament, but he became a kingmaker by winning the votes Lapid would need to secure a parliamentary majority.
The former defense minister said on Monday that if Netanyahu failed to secure a coalition, he would work for a “unity” government, as his top priority was to avoid a fifth election in less than three years.
In a televised address, he accused the prime minister of “slamming the door” in his face and vowed to seek the formation of a broad government spanning the entire political spectrum to avoid a new election.
“Now is the time to form a unity government,” he said. “The door is open to all parties.”
Netanyahu attacked Bennett after Lapid received the warrant, accusing him of “lying.”
“Bennett spoke of a unity government. It is an attempt to mislead the public. Everyone knows he wants to form a dangerous left-wing government, ”Netanyahu accused.
Bennett, a multimillion-dollar tech entrepreneur, is widely regarded as a right-wing who supports the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Lapid was backed by much of the so-called “change” bloc on Wednesday, receiving support from left-wing Labor, center-left Meretz and the hawkish but fiercely anti-Netanyahu Yisrael Beitenu party of Avigdor Lieberman.
Blue and White, led by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, also once again backed Lapid.
New Hope, a party of Likud deserters that holds six Knesset seats, endorsed Lapid after abstaining in Rivlin’s latest round of consultations.
Harry Fawcett of Al Jazeera, reporting from Jerusalem, said that, on the one hand, people in Israel are “extremely tired and have had enough of this endless saga”.
“On the other hand, there was a government that has not worked for two years – with all kinds of crises and emergencies, lack of budget. It has impacts and people want it resolved. “
Reaching a final agreement will not be easy, as it will require agreements from seven parties with very different agendas, in addition to the support of one of the two Arab parties.
A poll released by the Israel Democracy Institute on Wednesday showed that 70 percent of Israelis believe coalition talks will fail and a new vote will be called.
Netanyahu has become a divisive figure in Israeli politics, with the last four elections all seen as a referendum on his rule. He desperately wanted to stay in office while he was on trial, using his position to attack prosecutors and seek possible immunity from prosecution.
Netanyahu has been accused of fraud, breach of trust and corruption in a series of scandals. The trial has moved to the witness phase, with embarrassing testimony accusing him of exchanging favors with a powerful media mogul.
Netanyahu denies the charges, accusing law enforcement, justice and media of carrying out a “witch hunt” against him.
Al Jazeera’s Fawcett said Netanyahu “would undoubtedly try to sabotage this potential coalition”, perhaps by trying to bring Bennett back on board or by trying to delay the process.
“So things are far from over, but Netanyahu is in much greater danger than he has been at any stage of this crisis.”