A combination of file photos shows Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett giving a speech in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018, and Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid giving a speech in Tel Aviv, Israel, on March 24, 2021.
Ammar Awad; Amir Cohen | Reuters
It was a breakthrough in the eleventh hour in the truest sense of the word.
Less than 30 minutes before his midnight deadline, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid announced on Wednesday evening that he and fellow politician Naftali Bennett – the tech millionaire who leads one of Israel’s far-right minority parties – had reached an agreement to form a ruling coalition that could overthrow longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
It’s big business. The controversial Netayahu, leader of the right-wing Likud party, is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister and is 12th year in power despite numerous allegations of corruption.
And this newly formed alliance between his opponents only came about after four unsuccessful elections in less than two years.
The deal for Lapid and Bennett is based on the agreement that Bennett, who leads the right-wing minority party Yamina, will become prime minister until 2023, with center leader Lapid as foreign minister. At that point, Lapid would take over as prime minister.
But it’s not over yet – Netanyahu still has some time to fight back as the vote to confirm the new administration is not expected in about 12 days.
And the fragile coalition between Lapid and Bennett and the parties whose support they had to win in order to achieve the magic number of a majority of 61 seats in the Israeli parliament or the Knesset is astounding for many viewers. The parties that make up the likely future government of Israel represent a variety of different political ideologies: right, left, centrist – and, for the first time, Arab and Islamist parties.
Lapid, the 57-year-old former television presenter and finance minister, has been described as politically center-left. He supports a two-state solution with the Palestinians and the maintenance of secular values. Bennett and his right-wing Yamina party, meanwhile, are uncompromisingly nationalist and support the expansion of Israeli-Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which has repeatedly sparked conflict and international condemnation.
The Arab-Islamist Raam party, an unlikely partner in the alliance, is likely to push for more funding and better treatment of the Arab-Israeli communities.
One of the only things they all have in common is a desire to depose Netanyahu. Bennett was, in fact, a protégé of Netanyahu who previously served as his Secretary of Defense.
But even if he does become prime minister himself, Bennett will be far more limited in what he can do as his power rests on the support of so many other parties with dramatically different ideologies.
“Even to the extent that (Bennett’s) ideology is similar to that of Netanyahu, or even more restrictive on some issues, the restrictions are far greater than anything Netanyahu has faced,” said Ofer Zalzberg, director of the Middle East program at das Herbert C. Kelman Institute told CNBC from Jerusalem.
“Lapid’s right of veto must be passed for every important decision,” said Zalzberg. “Lapid publicly supports a two-state solution and publicly rejects any form of annexation, so from this point of view Lapid’s party is also considerably larger than Bennett’s and there are other left-wing parties in the coalition … so Bennett’s ideology” becomes significant coalition restrictions be exposed.”
The coalition will also depend on active support for the Islamist Raam party and passive support for other Arab parties, added Zalzberg – which “may lead to its overthrow.”
“It is unprecedented that an Israeli coalition should be based on the active support of a non-Zionist Arab party. So this coalition will have an interest in treating the Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel differently, ”he said.
At the same time, “Lapid is pragmatic. He’s not left, he’s not right, he’s pragmatic,” said Gideon Rahat, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and a faculty member in the political science department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “If there was a settlement that would ensure Israel’s security, he would support it.”
Both advocate liberal economic policies and judicial reform, Rahat said. But “Bennett is tougher when it comes to security … As for the Palestinians, it is clear that Bennet is right-wing and Lapid pragmatic.”
Importantly, both leaders are interested in improving Israel’s relationship with the U.S. Democratic Party and loudly criticized Netanyahu’s heavy reliance on the Republican Party – particularly the Donald Trump wing – for support.
“In contrast to Netanyahu, the emerging coalition is more interested in promoting bipartisan support for Israel in the US,” said Zalzberg.
“The coalition will want more cooperative relationships with the Biden administration … it will probably have to at least find ways to drive improvements in the quality of life for the Palestinians, and this should be done in a way that is visibly gaining.” Acceptance and benevolence in Washington . ”