TEL AVIV — On Sunday, the leaders of two of Opposition Parties Unite In Israel said that they would work together to create a coalition government, potentially deposing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for the first time in 12 years.
Naftali Bennett, the leader of the minor religious and nationalist Yamina party, and Yair Lapid, the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, announced their alliance.
“Israel has been in a cycle of elections, internal strife, and no leadership for the last two years,” Bennett said in a broadcast statement on Sunday. “This is not going to happen again. We can put a stop to it and regain control. A right-wing administration led by Netanyahu is out of the question; it’s either a change of government or new elections.”
Bennett said, “No one believes Netanyahu anymore.” “At this crucial juncture, I’m announcing my intention to establish a national unity administration alongside Lapid.”
Yesh Atid also announced Friday that it had reached agreements with Israel’s left-wing Meretz party, the New Hope party, a hard-line nationalist faction made up primarily of former Netanyahu allies, and the social-democratic Labour Party, which ruled the country for decades after its founding in 1948.
According to a statement from Yesh Atid, teams from both parties would meet in the evening to resume discussions to establish a unity government.
After the revelation, Netanyahu went on television to declare that Bennett should not be taken seriously because he simply wants to be prime minister and is “zigzagging.”
“When Iran sees this left-wing administration, what will they say? Will they go to war with Hamas?” Netanyahu stated his position. “This is a disadvantage. This is an anti-Zionist administration, not a national unity administration. This is a sham administration, and we must not allow it to continue.”
To constitute a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament, at least 61 MPs are needed. On Wednesday, Lapid’s 28-day mandate to create a new government would have expired.
In a statement issued earlier Sunday, Netanyahu claimed he had endorsed a “wide-ranging” plan for Bennett and New Hope party head Gideon Saar to “avoid the emergence of a dangerous left-wing government.” He said that it would allow both of them to serve as prime ministers.
Bennett, a former defense minister, did not respond to the news.
The new coalition was formed just days after an 11-day battle between Israel and Hamas concluded in a cease-fire that left scores of civilians dead.
The violence erupted amid a leadership vacuum in Israel following a March election that produced no clear winner — the fourth in two years.
Netanyahu missed a deadline to form a new government coalition earlier this month, despite many discussions with his opponents and unprecedented outreach to the leader of a small Islamist Arab party.
Netanyahu, 71, has been Prime Minister since 2009, but his legal woes have eclipsed his legacy in recent years. A major corruption trial against him began last month on allegations of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. He has denied any wrongdoing and claims to be the target of a “witch hunt.”
As opposition leader, Netanyahu is expected to stay at the helm of his Likud party.
During his extended career, he has become a polarising character in Israeli politics, upsetting a long list of erstwhile friends. In the past election, three parties were led by former senior advisers who had a falling out with him.
Israel’s Channel 12 claimed ahead of the announcement that the new administration might be sworn in as soon as June 8.
Bennett would be prime minister for the first two years and three months of the rotating administration, according to the statement. Then, in September 2023, Lapid would take over for the last two years and three months.
Paul Goldman and Yuliya Talmazan contributed reporting from Tel Aviv and London, respectively.