Israel Prime Minister: Live Updates on Netanyahu, Palestine and Naftali Bennett – The New York Times







Israeli Opposition Reaches Coalition Agreement

Israelis reacted with happiness and frustration to news that opposition parties had agreed to form a coalition government that would end Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year tenure as prime minister.

Tonight, we are celebrating, we — it started as a protest to encourage the government of change, and now Lapid has announced that he has a new government. So this protest turned into a celebration. My fellow protesters and I were in the streets for more than a year. So it’s a great celebration. We’re hopeful for this change, for a better future for this wonderful state. That’s why we’re here.

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Israelis reacted with happiness and frustration to news that opposition parties had agreed to form a coalition government that would end Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year tenure as prime minister.CreditCredit…via United Arab List Raam

After four elections in two years and now unsettled by a recent war and civil unrest, Israelis awoke on Thursday to the possibility that they might have a government — and that the longest-serving leader in their history might have been ousted.

Late Wednesday, an improbable assemblage of political parties agreed to form a coalition government. Should Parliament approve the arrangement, Benjamin Netanyahu’s singular reign as prime minister will come to an end, at least for now, and a fragile, painfully cobbled together alliance will assume power.

But Mr. Netanyahu signaled early Thursday that he would not go down without a struggle, calling on lawmakers to oppose “this dangerous left-wing government.”

While he appeared to have few avenues to hang onto power, Mr. Netanyahu’s career has been marked by a keen instinct for political survival.

Under the last-minute agreement by a coalition of opposition parties, Naftali Bennett, who opposes a Palestinian state and is a standard-bearer for religious nationalists, will serve as prime minister until 2023.

Should the new government hold together that long, the deal then calls for him to be replaced by Yair Lapid, a centrist former television host considered a standard-bearer for secular Israelis. Mr. Lapid would serve the remaining two years of the coalition’s term.

The strange-bedfellows nature of that arrangement mirrors the agreement that brought it about, an alliance among eight political parties from a diverse array of ideologies, from the left to the far right — among them the first independent Arab group to join a governing political alliance in Israeli history.

While some analysts hailed the arrangement as a reflection of the breadth and complexity of contemporary Israeli society, others said it embodied Israel’s political dysfunction. They also predicted that the compact would not last, given the incompatibility of those who signed it.

Nevertheless, after two years of a political impasse that has left Israel without a stable government or a state budget, it was movement. And it signaled a turning point for Mr. Netanyahu, a leader who has defined contemporary Israel more than any other, turning it hard to the right. He has been in office for 12 consecutive years and in all has held power for 15.

Mr. Bennett, a former ally of Mr. Netanyahu’s, is widely viewed as even further to the right. But he said he was throwing in his lot with his ideological opposites as a last resort to end Israel’s political crisis and try to prevent it from “dismantling the walls of the country, brick by brick, until our house falls in on us.”

Supporters of Prime Minister Benajmin Netanyahu of Israel protested against the proposed coalition in Tel Aviv, on Wednesday. 
Credit…Jack Guez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the precipice of being ousted from office after more than a decade in power, made it clear on Thursday that he intended to fight on.

“All the lawmakers who were elected by right-wing voters must oppose this dangerous left-wing government,” he wrote on Twitter.

By midday, he had begun an all-out campaign against the nascent coalition of opposition parties, listing concessions that he claimed Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett had made to secure an alliance with Raam, the Arab Islamist party.

His bellicose claims signaled what could be a bitter fight in the days ahead.

They also came as details about the fraught last-minute negotiations to secure an alliance started to come into focus.

Mr. Lapid, the leader of the Israeli opposition, had until midnight on Wednesday to cobble together an unlikely coalition to topple Mr. Netanyahu. He needed almost every minute — leaving it until 11:22 p.m. to inform Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s largely ceremonial president, that he had assembled an eight-party alliance formed of hard-right parties, leftists, centrists and Arab Islamists.

“The government will do everything it can to unite every part of Israeli society,” Mr. Lapid said in a statement released shortly after his call with Mr. Rivlin.

Mr. Lapid’s celebrations will be put on hold for several days, however. The speaker of the Israeli Parliament, Yariv Levin, is a member of Mr. Netanyahu’s party, Likud, and can use parliamentary procedure to delay the confidence vote until June 14, constitutional experts said.

That would give Mr. Netanyahu’s party time to pile pressure on wavering members of Mr. Lapid’s fragile coalition, in a bid to persuade them to abandon the new alliance. Many of them feel uncomfortable about working with one another and have made difficult compromises to join forces to push Mr. Netanyahu from office.

Officials of several of the parties making up the new alliance said early Thursday that the internal coalition agreements between them, and even the distribution of ministerial posts, had not yet been finalized.

Mr. Lapid agreed to give Naftali Bennett, a hard-right former settler leader who opposes Palestinian statehood, the chance to lead the government until 2023, at which point Mr. Lapid will take over.

Having these tensions on full display even before the coalition was officially formed has left many Israelis wondering whether it will last more than a few months, let alone its full term.

Should the coalition collapse, analysts believe Mr. Lapid may emerge with more credit than Mr. Bennett. While Mr. Bennett gets first crack at the premiership, his decision to work with centrists and leftists has angered his small following.

“Lapid has made a very strong set of decisions, conveyed an amazing level of maturity and really made a big statement about a different kind of leadership,” said Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israeli political analyst and pollster at the Century Foundation, a New York-based research group. “That will not be lost on the Israeli public.”

The front page of Yediot Ahronot on Thursday.
Credit…Yediot Ahronot

As Israelis awoke on Thursday to the possibility of a new political era after a late-night deal by an anti-Netanyahu bloc to form a governing coalition, Tzipi Livni, a prominent Israeli centrist, former minister and peace negotiator, took to Twitter with a statement of just a few words: “A morning of great relief!”

The far right of Israel’s political map adopted more of a doomsday theme.

Bezalel Smotrich, a former political partner of Naftali Bennett, who is poised to become Israel’s next prime minister, denounced what he called Mr. Bennett’s “desertion from the right-wing camp into the deep left.”

Mr. Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionism party, added in a Twitter post shortly before midnight that a photograph of Mr. Bennett alongside his new centrist and Arab Islamist partners would be “remembered for eternal shame in the black pages of the history of the Jewish people and the state of Israel.”

He followed up by describing the nascent coalition in Messianic end-of-days terms, quoting from Isaiah 11:6: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat … and a little child will lead them.”

The front pages of the main Hebrew newspapers on Thursday were cautious about predicting any Netanyahu exit.

“They Succeeded,” read the banner headline of Yediot Ahronot, a widely read centrist daily, while noting that Mr. Netanyahu would use the coming days to do all he could to break up the alliance and that many disagreements remained even within the nascent coalition.

A commentator, Merav Batito, wrote in Yediot Ahronot that the late-night deal symbolized “the possibility of a return to normalcy for Israeli society.”

Israel Hayom, a right-wing paper that has long supported Mr. Netanyahu, went with “Lapid Succeeded, Netanyahu does not Despair.”

But it gave more prominence to Wednesday’s election of Isaac Herzog as Israel’s next president — a largely symbolic post — with a large, celebratory photo of Mr. Herzog and his wife, Michal, raising a glass.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, at the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House in September.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

CAIRO — The prospective ouster of Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the chief architects of historic diplomatic accords that Israel signed last year with Arab countries, appeared on Thursday to pose few obstacles to those new relationships, at least for now.

One prominent political scientist in the United Arab Emirates — by far the most significant Arab state to have normalized ties with Israel in those deals — described the mood after the news of Israel’s emerging governing coalition as “business as usual.”

The series of agreements, which the Trump administration dubbed the Abraham Accords, forged new ties with the Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. There was no official reaction from those countries’ capitals on Thursday morning.

When the accords were signed, some proponents said the deals were aimed at better positioning the Arab states to press Israel on its relations with the Palestinians. In practice, however, the countries prioritized other interests: security cooperation, business opportunities and sweeteners dangled by the Trump administration, such as dropping Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

When tensions between Israel and Palestinians flared into violence last month, the Arab nations mostly stuck to issuing statements condemning Israeli aggression, while Egypt, Qatar and Turkey used their stronger ties to the Palestinians to help broker a cease-fire.

That crisis was “awkward” for the new relationship between Israel and the Emirates, said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, the Emirati political scientist. But he said that the Emirates, while remaining publicly committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state, was evidently determined to press ahead with the business and strategic opportunities that Israel could offer.

Israel and the Emirates signed a new tax treaty just days ago, and the Emirati ambassador recently paid a right-wing Israeli politician a courtesy visit.

“We’re here for our own strategic necessities, and for what serves our best national interest,” Mr. Abdulla said.

“Where does the Palestinian issue fit in? If we can help, welcome,” he added. “The Abraham Accords was sold to the world as it will bring peace, but that is just too much to ask for this accord.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Parliament in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
Credit…Pool photo by Ronen Zvulun

BRUSSELS — There was little immediate reaction by governments on Thursday to the news that Benjamin Netanyahu might soon be out of power in Israel. Governments deal with governments, and Mr. Netanyahu remains Israel’s prime minister until the moment that he is not.

That moment could be a week or more away, if it does come. Mr. Netanyahu is expected to keep pressing to undermine the narrow majority that the new, diverse coalition seems to have. Until Parliament votes a new government into office, nothing has changed in relationships between Israel and other countries.

Except, of course, it inevitably has.

The influence of Mr. Netanyahu’s voice is immediately diminished on issues like efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which he has been vocal in opposing. Those talks in Vienna have made slow progress but adjourned Wednesday evening so diplomats could return home for further instructions, with some hopes expressed that they might be successful in the next round, the sixth.

There is every expectation that a new Israeli government, as ideologically divided as it is among eight political parties, will concentrate on domestic issues long postponed, like the passage of a state budget, and try to stay away from the kinds of controversial issues that could blow it apart.

It is also expected to focus on efforts to better the lives of those hurt by the recent clash with Hamas and to improve the situation of Israeli Arabs and Israeli Palestinians whom the Arab party, Raam, promised to help when it broke precedent to join this coalition.

Foreign governments were quick, however, to praise the election on Wednesday of Isaac Herzog as Israel’s next president. Though a largely symbolic post, the presidency is an important symbol of the state, and Mr. Herzog, a former leader of the much-diminished Labor Party, is widely known and liked.

No doubt the usual statements of welcome will arrive if and when Naftali Bennett actually becomes prime minister.

Israeli soldiers fired tear gas at Palestinian demonstrators during a protest against Israeli settlements in the West Bank last month.
Credit…Raneen Sawafta/Reuters

For Israelis, the possible downfall of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving leader, is an epochal moment. Israeli news media outlets have barraged their audiences with reports and commentary on the opposition attempts to form a government.

But for many Palestinians, the political drama has prompted little more than a shrug and a resurgence of bitter memories.

During Mr. Netanyahu’s current 12-year tenure, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process fizzled as Israeli and Palestinian leaders accused each other of obstructing the process, and Mr. Netanyahu expressed increasing skepticism about the possibility of a sovereign Palestinian state.

Yet to many Palestinians, his likely replacement as prime minister, Naftali Bennett, would be no improvement. Mr. Bennett is Mr. Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and a former settler leader who outright rejects Palestinian statehood.

Instead, many Palestinians are consumed by their own political moment, which some activists have framed as the most pivotal in decades.

The Palestinian polity has long been physically and politically fragmented between the United States-backed Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank; its archrival, Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza; a Palestinian minority inside Israel whose votes might make or break an Israeli government; and a sprawling diaspora.

Spurred by last month’s 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and the worst bout of intercommunal Arab-Jewish violence to have convulsed Israel in decades, these disparate parts suddenly came together in a seemingly leaderless eruption of shared identity and purpose.

In a rare display of unity, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians observed a general strike on May 12 across Gaza, the West Bank, the refugee camps of Lebanon and inside Israel.

“I don’t think whoever is in charge in Israel will make a great deal of difference to the Palestinians,” said Ahmad Aweidah, the former head of the Palestinian stock exchange. “There might be slight differences and nuances, but all mainstream Israeli parties, with slight exceptions on the extreme left, share pretty much the same ideology.”

The strike in mid-May, Mr. Aweidah said, “showed that we are united no matter what the Israelis have tried to do for 73 years: categorizing us into Israeli Arabs, West Bankers, Jerusalemites, Gazans, refugees and diaspora.”

“None of that has worked,” he said. “We are back to square one.”

Credit…Gil Cohen-Magen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Now that Israeli opposition parties have reached agreement on a coalition government, they have up to seven days to present the government to Parliament for a vote of confidence.

Some disagreements within the fractious coalition were still being ironed out until shortly before the deadline on Wednesday, at midnight in Israel.

And with the fate of the new coalition dependent on a narrow margin and hanging on every vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies were on the hunt for potential defectors leading up to the announcement and signaled that they would continue until the vote of confidence.

The coalition, ranging from right to left, is united primarily by its opposition to Mr. Netanyahu, the prime minister since 2009.

Israel has held four parliamentary elections in two years, all of them inconclusive, leaving the country without a stable government or state budget. If the opposition fails to form a government, yet another election could result.

Credit…Dan Balilty for The New York Times

Naftali Bennett, who is poised to become Israel’s next prime minister, is a former high-tech entrepreneur best known for insisting that there must never be a full-fledged Palestinian state and that Israel should annex much of the occupied West Bank.

The independently wealthy son of immigrants from the United States, Mr. Bennett, 49, entered the Israeli Parliament eight years ago and is relatively unknown and inexperienced on the international stage. That has left much of the world — and many Israelis — wondering what kind of leader he might be.

A former chief of staff to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Mr. Bennett is often described as more right-wing than his old boss. Shifting between seemingly contradictory alliances, Mr. Bennett has been called an extremist and an opportunist. Allies say he is merely a pragmatist, less ideological than he appears, and lacking Mr. Netanyahu’s penchant for demonizing opponents.

In a measure of Mr. Bennett’s talents, he has now pulled off a feat that is extraordinary even by the perplexing standards of Israeli politics. He has all but maneuvered himself into the top office even though his party, Yamina, won just seven of the 120 seats in the Parliament.

Mr. Bennett leveraged his modest but pivotal electoral weight after the inconclusive March election, Israel’s fourth in two years. He entered coalition talks as a kingmaker and appears ready to emerge as the one wearing the crown.

Mr. Bennett has long championed West Bank settlers and once led the council representing them, although he is not a settler. He is religiously observant — he would be the first prime minister to wear a kipa — but he will head a governing coalition that is largely secular.

He would lead a precarious coalition that spans Israel’s fractious political spectrum from left to right and includes a small Arab Islamist party — much of which opposes his ideas on settlement and annexation. That coalition proposes to paper over its differences on Israeli-Palestinian relations by focusing on domestic matters.

Mr. Bennett has explained his motives for teaming up with such ideological opposites as an act of last resort to end the political impasse that has paralyzed Israel.

“The political crisis in Israel is unprecedented on a global level,” he said in a televised speech on Sunday. “We could end up with fifth, sixth, even 10th elections, dismantling the walls of the country, brick by brick, until our house falls in on us. Or we can stop the madness and take responsibility.”

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Israel Prime Minister: Live Updates on Netanyahu, Palestine and Naftali Bennett – The New York Times

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