Israel set for new government as new coalition reaches agreement

History made as Arab Israeli party agrees to join government


The Netanyahu era looks set to come to an end after 12 years, following his opponents’ success in building an alternative coalition late last night. 

They had until midnight before they lost their mandate and, with just over 30 minutes to spare, they made a jubilant phone call to President Reuven Rivlin. 

He answered the phone at a football stadium, where he had just presented the state cup. “I commit to you Mr. President, that this government will work to serve all the citizens of Israel,” opposition leader Yair Lapid told him. 

He emphasised that it will aim at true “unity,” saying that it will “respect those who oppose it, and do everything in its power to unite all parts of Israeli society.” 

Under the agreement, Naftali Bennett of Yamina will be Prime Minister for two years, followed by Mr Lapid of Yesh Atid. The other parties backing the coalition are the right-wing New Hope and Israel Beytenu factions, the centrist Blue and White, left-wing factions Labour and Meretz, and the Arab party Raam. 

The new alliance makes history by shunning Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister — and also because it represents the first time that an Arab party has signed a coalition deal. 

Until now, Arab parties have steered clear of coalition agreements and Jewish-led parties have tended to avoid alliances with them. But when Benjamin Netanyahu was trying to build his own coalition he started talks with Raam, ending the taboo, ironically setting the stage for his opponents to close a deal with it. 

Raam leader Mansour Abbas said that the agreement ends the era of Arab parties sitting on the sidelines. He stated that the coalition blueprint includes many clauses that will improve life for Arab citizens.

Mr Abbas said that there are “many good things in this agreement for Arabs, and for Israeli society in general.” 

While Mr Netanyahu’s opponents have succeeded in forming a government on paper, it will not become formal until approved in a Knesset vote, which is not expected until Monday at the earliest. There are concerns that Knesset speaker Yariv Levin of Likud will try to delay the vote out of loyalty to the current PM. The new coalition is trying to gather signatures to change the Knesset speaker, to allay this risk.  

Mr Netanyahu is expected to use every hour until the vote to try to throw a spanner in the works through a range of means, including persuading members of the coalition parties to rebel and vote against the new government. 

He reportedly called an emergency meeting of political allies today, including the ultra-Orthodox parties, to explore ways of scuppering the planned coalition. 

Independent of Mr Netanyahu’s influence, one Yamnina politician has already said he will vote against the coalition, and others may follow. 

The precariousness of the new deal prompted Mr Abbas to say he is hopeful that nothing will go wrong before the new government is inaugurated. “This is the first time an Arab party has partnered in forming a government and we hope it will be inaugurated,” he said. “We are not interested in a fifth election."  

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