JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents announced Wednesday that they have reached a deal to form a new governing coalition, paving the way for the ouster of the longtime Israeli leader.
The dramatic announcement by opposition leader Yair Lapid and his main coalition partner, Naftali Bennett, came shortly before a midnight deadline and prevented what could have been Israel’s fifth consecutive election in just over two years.
“This government will work for all the citizens of Israel, those that voted for it and those that didn’t. It will do everything to unite Israeli society,” Lapid said.
The agreement still needs to be approved by the Knesset, or parliament, in a vote that is expected to take place early next week. If it goes through, Lapid and a diverse array of partners that span the Israeli political spectrum will end Netanyahu’s record-setting but divisive 12-year rule.
Netanyahu, desperate to remain in office while he fights corruption charges, is expected to do everything possible in the coming days to prevent the new coalition from taking power.
If he fails, he will be pushed into the opposition.
The deal comes at a tumultuous time for Israel, which fought an 11-day war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip last month while also experiencing mob violence between Jews and Arabs in cities across the country. The country also is emerging from a coronavirus crisis that caused deep economic damage and exposed tensions between the secular majority and the ultra-Orthodox minority.
Under the agreement, Lapid and Bennett will split the job of prime minister in a rotation. Bennett, a former ally of Netanyahu, is to serve the first two years, while Lapid is to serve the final two years — though it is far from certain their fragile coalition will last that long.
The historic deal also includes a small Islamist party, the United Arab List, which would make it the first Arab party ever to be part of a governing coalition.