Far-right party leader Naftali Bennett threw his crucial support on Sunday behind a “unity government” in Israel to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in what would be the end of a political era.
Bennett’s decision, which he announced in a televised address, could enable opposition chief Yair Lapid to put together a coalition of right-wing, centrist and leftist parties and hand Netanyahu his first election defeat since 1999.
Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party that finished second to Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud in an inconclusive March 23 national ballot, faces a Wednesday, June 2 deadline from Israel’s president to announce a new government.
Lapid’s chances of success have rested largely with Bennett, a former defence chief and a high-tech millionaire whose Yamina party’s six seats in the 120-member parliament are enough to give him the status of kingmaker.
Under a prospective power-sharing deal, Bennett would replace Netanyahu, the 71-year-old head of the Likud party, as prime minister and later give way to centrist Lapid in a rotation agreement.
“I am announcing today that I intend to work with all my might towards establishing a unity government with Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid,” Bennett said in his speech. “It’s either a fifth election, or a unity government.”
Responding on television to Bennett’s announcement, Netanyahu accused him of perpetrating “the fraud of the century”, citing past public promises Bennett made not to join up with Lapid. He said a right-wing government was still a possibility.
Israel has held four elections since April 2019 that ended with no clear winner and left Netanyahu and his rivals short of a parliamentary majority, with the veteran leader remaining in office as head of a caretaker government.
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