Israel was struck on Sunday by the political drama about possibly the imminent end of the country’s leading record for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On Wednesday, a 28-day mandate for opposition leader Yair Lapid to build a new government ends following four inconclusive parliamentary elections in two years, and media reports say that he was near the start of a coalition to end the Prime Minister Netanyahu’s 12-year term.
Lapid is largely challenged by far-right politician Naftali Bennett, who has six main parliamentary offices in the Yamina party.
But first, Bennett would have to rally his own party’s legislators behind joining what Netanyahu’s opponents have described as a government of “change” comprising factions from the left, centre and right.
Still short of a parliamentary majority after a March 23 election that ended in stalemate, such a diverse grouping could be fragile, and would require outside backing by Arab members of parliament whose political views differ sharply from Yamina’s.
Bennett has maintained public silence in recent days, with Likud party chief Netanyahu fuelling speculation his own tenure was about to end in a tweet and video on Friday. “Real Alert,” he wrote, warning that a dangerous “left-wing” administration was in the cards.
Yamina announced late on Saturday that Bennett would meet and update its legislators on Sunday, after reports he had agreed to a deal in which he would serve first as prime minister before handing over to centrist Lapid.
A former defence minister, Bennett has reversed course before over ousting Netanyahu, 71, a right-wing leader in power consecutively since 2009 and now on trial on corruption charges that he denies.
With an agreement with Lapid widely reported to have been finalised just before fighting erupted on May 10 between Israel and Gaza militants, Bennett said during the hostilities he was abandoning efforts to form a coalition with the centre and left.
But a ceasefire is holding, a recent wave of street violence in Israel between Arabs and Jews has ebbed, and a Lapid-Bennett partnership could be back on course.
Israeli political commentators, however, were taking nothing for granted.
The political columnist Yossi Verter wrote in the left-wing HAAARTZ on Sunday “The Anti-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu government of change is not yet a completed fact.”
“It’s premature to open the champagne, and to wear sackcloth too early,” he said, asking if Yamina’s lawmakers can withstand right-wing pressures on the Lapid deal.
If the government does not announce Lapid, 57, a fifth Israeli election since April 2019 – he has said that he wants to avoid a prospect – is probable. Lapid is 57.