Naftali Bennett delivers a statement in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, in Jerusalem, May 30 2021. Picture: YONATAN SINDEL/REUTERS
Naftali Bennett delivers a statement in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, in Jerusalem, May 30 2021. Picture: YONATAN SINDEL/REUTERS

Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents edged closer to ousting the legally embattled Israeli leader on Sunday after an erstwhile ally agreed to join the alternative government they’re trying to form.

Naftali Bennett, a pro-settlement security hawk who’s served under Netanyahu in various cabinet positions and whose Yamina party has six key seats in parliament, said he intended to “work with all my might” to form a “government of change” together with former finance minister Yair Lapid.

Four inconclusive elections in two years have shown that Israel cannot form a right-wing government, “and anyone who says differently is telling you a bald-faced lie”, Bennett said. He said his Yamina party would enter into negotiations on Sunday night to join the emerging coalition.

“I will work to the utmost to form a national unity government together with my friend Yair Lapid,” he said. The two would be expected to share power if they manage to clinch enough support in parliament for their government, with Bennett expected to serve first as premier.

The coalition Lapid is trying to cobble together would ally nationalists, centrists and leftists, secular and religious, Arab and Jew in the most unlikely alliance in the annals of Israeli politics, all of them driven by a desire to replace the 71-year-old Netanyahu, who is on trial in a Jerusalem court on multiple graft charges. Bennett’s announcement was a dramatic reversal from his decision two weeks ago to pull out of talks with Lapid during May’s war in the Gaza Strip.

Lapid has until midnight on Wednesday to present a formal coalition agreement to President Reuven Rivlin.

Even with Yamina, Netanyahu’s opponents are still four short of a parliamentary majority of 61 legislators and would probably have to rely on the support of an Arab party, a rare development in Israeli politics.

The United Arab List, headed by Mansour Abbas, has been in coalition talks with Lapid after suspending negotiations during the war.

Israel has been in a state of political turmoil ever since Netanyahu brought down the government in December 2018 and put in motion a cascade of elections and one short-lived dysfunctional government. The anti-Netanyahu bloc was tapped to try to piece together a government after the prime minister failed after the last round of balloting on March 23.

Retaining power offers Netanyahu his only chance of halting his corruption trial, through the passage of legislation shielding incumbent leaders from prosecution. He says he’s done nothing wrong and is the victim of a political witch hunt by leftist opponents.

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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