Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks set to end his 12 consecutive years in power in five days, as Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin announced Tuesday that a vote would be held on swearing in the new “change government” during a special parliamentary session on Sunday, a day before the deadline set by law.
The eight-party “change government” alliance, headed by Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, anticipates winning a 61-59 majority in the vote, after wavering Yamina MK Nir Orbach said Tuesday he would back the new coalition.
The timing of the vote means that all coalition agreements must be formally handed to the Knesset and made public by Friday. The pro-Netanyahu bloc will therefore have 48 hours — not the 24 hours required by the law, since the Sabbath day of rest isn’t counted — to scrutinize the agreements and pressure right-wing MKs to jump ship before the vote of confidence.
The voting process will begin at 4 p.m. Sunday, the Knesset said on Tuesday evening.
In a statement, Levin said a new Knesset speaker would be chosen during the same session. The Knesset doesn’t normally convene on Sundays.
Levin formally notified the parliament on Monday that Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid had succeeded in forming a new power-sharing government within the time allotted to him by President Reuven Rivlin, but at the time didn’t set a date for the swearing-in, which must by law take place no later than June 14.
The Likud party’s Levin, a Netanyahu loyalist, has been suspected by critics of trying to time the swearing-in in a way that gives the premier’s allies the greatest chance to foil the coalition by persuading prospective right-wing members to defect.
The law holds that the vote of confidence must come within seven days of the speaker’s formal notification to Knesset, and members of the “change government” had been pressuring Levin not to wait for the last possible day but rather to call the vote for Wednesday.
Lapid celebrated Levin’s announcement on Twitter.
“It’s happening!” he wrote. “I thank Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin for setting the swearing-in date on Sunday. MK Karine Elharrar will convene the Arrangements Committee to set the schedule. The coalition agreements will be submitted as required by law.
“The unity government is going ahead for the benefit of Israel’s citizens.”
The new eight-party coalition that would oust Netanyahu’s current transitional government is set to hold a razor-thin majority of 61 lawmakers out of the Knesset’s 120, meaning the defection of a single lawmaker could thwart it.
On Monday, Lapid said the coalition will strive to unite a fractured nation and will also serve the whole nation, including those who voted for parties going into the opposition.
“This government will be good and it will last because it is based on the right things – on trust, on decency, on goodwill,” Lapid said at a Yesh Atid faction meeting, commenting on widespread skepticism about the survivability of a coalition with a wafer-thin parliamentary majority and a motley assembly of right-wing, centrist, left-wing and Arab parties.
The emerging government will first be headed by Yamina party chief Bennett, who will be replaced by Lapid as prime minister in August 2023.
Amid alarmist discourse in some right-wing circles, rising incitement on social media, angry protests outside politicians’ homes, and even allegations of treason against Bennett and his allies, the Yamina party chief and prime minister-designate said on Sunday that the new government “is not a catastrophe, it’s not a disaster, [it’s] a change of government: a normal and obvious event in any democratic country.”
Bennett appealed to Netanyahu to “let go. Let the country move forward. People are allowed to vote for a government even if you do not lead it — a government that, by the way, is 10 degrees to the right of the current one.
“Don’t leave scorched earth in your wake. We want to remember the good, the great deal of good you did during your service [as prime minister], and not, God forbid, a negative atmosphere you would leave upon your departure.”
Netanyahu, speaking to the right-wing Channel 20 after Bennett’s comments, called him “a habitual liar.” He said the emergent government was “more dangerous than the [2005 Gaza] Disengagement and Oslo [Accords].”
He accused Bennett of engaging in a “liquidation sale” of the country and claimed the incoming government was in league with the so-called “deep state.”
On Sunday, Yamina MKs Idit Silman and Orbach were granted extra security protection, after being targeted by activists aiming to pressure them against backing the emerging coalition deal.
At least four of the seven Yamina lawmakers in the Knesset have now been given additional protection amid threats directed at them over the party joining up with Lapid and left-wing parties to form the so-called change government.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.