Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid, who has been given 28 days to form a government, said his goal was to forge a coalition that would end Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s divisive regime.
But to do so will require walking a tightrope unparalleled in Israeli political history.
Lapid will need to build a united coalition mainly through opposition to Netanyahu of disparate groups ranging from right-wing Jewish nationalists to Arab lawmakers who have never previously served in an Israeli government.
And, in an unprecedented twist, the former centrist TV presenter will likely have to sacrifice his own ambitions as prime minister at least in the short term.
– How divided would a Lapid coalition be? –
Israel’s fourth inconclusive election in less than two years produced a fractured parliament.
Lapid can likely count on the support of centrist and left-wing lawmakers as well as two right-wing parties firmly committed to removing Netanyahu.
The New Hope Party is made up of deserters from Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud, while Yisrael Beitenu is supported by many immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Barring defections, these parties would give a Lapid colaition 51 of the 61 seats in parliament it needs to gain a majority.
Netanyahu’s Likud, two ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and the far-right alliance of religious Zionism collectively hold 52 seats and would almost certainly reject any outreach by Lapid.
To reach the magic number of 61, Lapid must attract Naftali Bennett’s religious nationalist Yamina party, which holds seven seats, and at least a few Arab lawmakers, an ideologically diverse group of different parties that collectively hold 10 seats.
– What does Lapid have to do to reach 61? –
There is general consensus that Lapid’s path to power requires offering Bennett the first round of a rotating prime minister as part of a coalition deal.
Lapid has already made such an offer to Bennett, a former Netanyahu protege whose relationship with the prime minister has disintegrated.
“The only viable option is Bennett-Lapid with Bennett first,” said Gayil Talshir, political scientist at Hebrew University.
The logic of the strategy is that it brings leading kingsmaker Bennett on board and makes the coalition more palatable to the right, especially in New Hope.
It could appeal to the center and the left as well by accomplishing something that had eluded them since 2009: removing Netanyahu from power.
“Lapid must postpone his dream of being prime minister,” to have a chance of reaching 61 seats, political scientist Shmuel Rosner told AFP.
– What are the obstacles to a Lapid-Bennett agreement? –
The Lapid-Bennett rotation plan could easily crumble into the hornet’s nest of Israeli politics.
Bennett enthusiastically supported the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, a red line for Arab lawmakers firmly committed to Palestinian statehood.
Arab-led Common List lawmakers reiterated their support for a potential Lapid government on Wednesday, but told President Reuven Rivlin in writing that they “do not support a government led by Naftali Bennett.”
Mansour Abbas, leader of the conservative Islamic Raam party, which has four seats, has generally expressed his openness to any arrangement that improves the living conditions of the 20% of Israel’s Arab minority.
But now that he has been given a chance to form a government, Lapid still has no obvious way to bridge the Bennett-Arab divide.
Perhaps the most serious threat to a unity government is Netanyahu himself.
Moments after Lapid was wiretapped, he gave a televised speech aimed at the right-wing, alleging that Bennett was about to sell them to fulfill his ambitions as prime minister.
“Everyone knows that (Bennett) wants to form a dangerous left-wing government,” Netanyahu accused without evidence.
Political experts agree that Netanyahu will now pledge to make it uncomfortable for any right wing to join a pro-Lapid government.
“Netanyahu is now in the midst of sabotage,” the headline of the center-left Haaretz newspaper said.
Talshir said there was already “enormous pressure on Bennett’s people to defect or abstain,” when asked to support a government formed under Lapid’s tenure.
© 2021 AFP