Report: Bennett, Lapid reach agreement on forming coalition to oust Netanyahu

Unsourced TV claim says announcement expected in coming days, but Yamina may not have all MKs on board, as Likud attempts to portray right-wing party as propping up left

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett (left) and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid during the swearing-in ceremony of the 24th Knesset, at the Knesset building in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett (left) and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid during the swearing-in ceremony of the 24th Knesset, at the Knesset building in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett has agreed to create a governing coalition with Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid, according to an unsourced TV report Friday on a deal that could pave the way for the ouster of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after over a decade in power.

The report from Channel 12 news came as Lapid scrambled to line up support for a government by a June 2 deadline, with Bennett potentially holding the keys. If Lapid cannot build a majority by June 2, the Knesset would have 21 days to agree on a prime minister; otherwise, Israel would head to its fifth elections in two-and-a-half years.

“I intend to enter talks and efforts to form a government that we will both head,” Bennett told Lapid Friday, according to Channel 12, which reported that an agreement had been reached despite the message’s seemingly non-committal nature.

Bennett will announce the agreement to the public in the coming days and the government will be sworn in as early as June 8, according to the network.

According to the report, Bennett would serve as prime minister for the first two years and three months of the rotation government, before Lapid takes over in September 2023 for the last two years and three months. It said an announcement would come after Shabbat on Saturday night, or on Sunday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in Caeasaria on May 28, 2021. (Screen capture/Twitter)

The channel noted that Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked could still torpedo the deal, however, fearing a right-wing backlash from voters who prefer a government headed by the conservative Netanyahu than one backed and eventually headed by the centrist Lapid. Channel 13 said that Yamina MK Nir Orbach was also on the fence.

Netanyahu appeared to attempt to play into those fears earlier Friday, releasing a video in which he said Bennett first agreed to join a rotational government with him, but later reneged to throw his lot in with what he described as a “left-wing government.”

Channel 12 did not give a source for its information. According to the Kan broadcaster, Likud has been pushing the idea that it believes a Lapid-Bennett agreement is a done deal and will be announced Saturday.

Yamina and Bennett did not respond to the report, which came out just as Shabbat was beginning in Israel, when many religious Jews refrain from using technology. However, Haaretz reported he would make an announcement on Saturday night.

Channel 12 later reported that unnamed Yamina sources believed Bennett was indeed headed into a government with Lapid, but the effort could be torpedoed should they be overtaken by events, such as the ethnic rioting in Israeli cities that led Bennett to announce earlier this month that he had suspended talks with Lapid

Lapid still needs other key pieces if he is to complete the coalition puzzle before the clock runs out on Wednesday, with the most likely result being a return to the polls for the fifth time in just over two years, but Bennett’s support would give the chances of his so-called change bloc a major boost.

Netanyahu has been in power since 2009, but has failed to garner enough support or enough partners to put together a new government since elections were called in early 2019, and his political future has been complicated by being indicted in three criminal cases. While some former Netanyahu backers have refused to entertain joining him in a coalition due to his legal issues, Bennett has left open the possibility, and coyly vacillated between Lapid and Netanyahu, leaving open the possibility of working with either of them and making himself into a kingmaker.

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked gives a statement to the press at the Knesset on May 26, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

But to succeed, the change bloc will require at least the passive support of the Islamist Ra’am party, which has been non-committal about its plans since the March election. Members of Yamina and New Hope, another key part of the nascent coalition, have balked at the possibility of being in a coalition with Ra’am.

Channel 13 noted that even after an agreement is announced, Bennett could still face the possibility of defections within his party in the actual Knesset vote to form the government. Yamina MK Amichai Chikli already announced that he will not sit in a unity government with Meretz and Ra’am, leaving Bennett with no maneuverability, as without him the bloc would lose its majority.

Earlier Friday, Netanyahu issued a video statement lashing out at Bennett and reportedly made a far-reaching offer to New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar, offering him to be premier first in a rotational government, as he seemingly sought to halt Lapid’s march toward replacing him.

Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party and leader of the opposition, meanwhile, inked a coalition deal with Labor, moving him slightly closer to a long-sought majority.

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on May 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yesh Atid has also inked deals with Meretz and Yisrael Beytenu that would make Meretz chair Nitzan Horowitz the next health minister and Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman the next finance minister. Lapid is also in talks with New Hope with an offer to make Sa’ar the next justice minister reportedly being offered.

Haaretz reported that Yesh Atid had reached agreements with members of the change bloc which would grant the right-wing flank of New Hope and Yamina veto power over all government decisions related to judicial reform.

This would be a major victory for Bennett and Sa’ar, whose parties have vowed to change the manner in which judges are appointed and have also sought to bring additional conservatives justices to the bench. Earlier this week, Hebrew media reported that Blue and White was demanding the same veto power in order to prevent such reforms.

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