Israel’s Lapid enlists Gantz, moves closer to unseating Netanyahu


Jerusalem (Reuters) – Israel’s opposition leader moved closer to unseating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday and forming a new government after agreeing terms with several parties including one led by Defence Minister Benny Gantz, a spokesman said.

During a 12-year run in top office, Netanyahu has been an often polarising 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.

Yair Lapid, a centrist tasked with forming the next governing coalition after the conservative Netanyahu failed to do so in the wake of an inconclusive March 23 election, has until midnight (2100 GMT) on Wednesday to present a final slate.

Lapid, a 57-year-old former TV host and author, has yet to clinch a deal with his main partner, nationalist Naftali Bennett, who would serve as premier first under a proposed rotation between the two men.

Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and Gantz’s centrist Blue and White said in a joint statement they had “agreed on the outlines of the government and core issues relating to the strengthening of democracy and Israeli society”.

Gantz would remain defence minister in the new cabinet, the parties said.

First Arab Party in Government?

Netanyahu, 71, has sought to discredit Bennett and two other rightists negotiating with Lapid, saying they were endangering Israel’s security – an allusion to efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear programme and manage ever-fraught Palestinian ties.

Keeping the door open to them, Israel’s longest-serving leader, who was first elected prime minister a quarter-century ago, says he is still capable of forming the next government.

Deals have also been reached with the left-wing Meretz and centre-left Labour parties as well as with former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, a Lapid spokesman said.

The United Arab List was also negotiating to join the coalition. If it does, it would be the first time in Israel’s history that an independent Arab party becomes a member of the government.

A source involved in the Lapid-led talks said the proposed new government would try to retain consensus by avoiding hot-button ideological issues such as whether to annex or cede occupied West Bank territory that Palestinians want for a state.

If Lapid misses Wednesday’s deadline – marking the end of a 28-day presidential mandate to put together a coalition – parliament will have three weeks to agree on a new candidate.

Should that fail, Israel will hold another election, its fifth in some two years.

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