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Netanyahu’s disparate rivals try to nail down pact to unseat him

Published: Updated:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rivals on Monday sought to finalize a unity coalition that would unseat the veteran Israeli leader, but political commentators saw a bitter fight ahead.

Centrist opposition chief Yair Lapid secured support on Sunday from ultranationalist Naftali Bennett for a “change” government of ideologically disparate rivals.

The deal, in which Bennett would serve first as prime minister under a rotation with Lapid, must be finalized by a deadline of midnight (2200GMT) on Wednesday.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during a briefing to ambassadors to Israel at a military base in Tel Aviv, Israel, on May 19, 2021. (Reuters)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during a briefing to ambassadors to Israel at a military base in Tel Aviv, Israel, on May 19, 2021. (Reuters)

Netanyahu, 71, is the dominant political figure of his generation and his challengers have little in common - save a desire to emerge from his divisive shadow and from unprecedented turmoil which has seen four deadlocked elections in two years.

Hoping to discredit Bennett and other rightists now negotiating with Lapid, Netanyahu has cast them as committing “the fraud of the century” which would, he said, imperil Israel.

Lapid’s riposte was restrained.

“A week from now, the State of Israel can be in a new era. Suddenly it will be quieter. Ministers will go to work without inciting, without lying, without trying to instil fear all of the time,” he said in a televised address.

Though he described Bennett as “my friend, the prime minister-designate” and voiced hope of a deal before Wednesday, Lapid cautioned: “There are still plenty of obstacles in the way of the formation of the new government.”

Israelis were divided about everything except the folly of writing Netanyahu off.

“An event took place yesterday whose importance cannot be overstated. A real possibility was created ... an alternative government in every sense of the word,” wrote Sima Kadmon in the best-selling Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.