Israel Prime Minister News: Live Updates on Netanyahu, Palestine and Naftali Bennett
Israel Prime Minister News: Live Updates on Netanyahu, Palestine and Naftali Bennett
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.”
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 agreement on a coalition that would oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and include an Arab party in government has prompted indignation and relief in roughly equal measure among Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Indignation because Naftali Bennett, who will become prime minister until 2023 if Parliament approves the proposed eight-party coalition, is a right-wing leader aligned with religious nationalists in strong opposition to a Palestinian state.
Relief because Mr. Netanyahu, while sometimes courting Israeli Arabs of late, has often used their presence to generate fear among his base, famously warning in 2015 that they were voting “in droves.” He has fanned division where possible and declared that Israel is “the nation-state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people.”
These provocations, and the passing of a nation-state bill in 2018 that said the right to exercise self-determination was “unique to the Jewish people,” contributed to the anger evident in violent confrontations in several cities last month between Arabs and Jews.
That a small Arab party known by its Hebrew acronym, Raam, agreed to join the government so soon after the clashes reflected a growing realization that marginalization of Arab parties brings only paralysis. It also suggested a desire among some Palestinian citizens, who account for 20 percent of the Israeli population, to exert more political influence.
Raam, with four seats in the current Parliament, would be the first independent Arab party in an Israeli government, although it would not have any cabinet members.
“I do not think that the two-state solution or reconciliation with the Palestinians will be achieved in the coming year or two,” said Jafar Farah, the director of the Mossawa Center, an advocacy group for Arab citizens of Israel. “But I do think that it is an opportunity for the Palestinian community in Israel to become a game changer.”
Others were more skeptical. “I have debated Bennett, and he says quite openly, ‘You are not my equal,’” said Diana Buttu, a prominent Palestinian lawyer based in Haifa. “Did I want Netanyahu out? Yes. To the extent of wanting Bennett as prime minister? No.”
Alluding to Mansour Abbas, the leader of Raam, she added: “He has done this to make his mark, but he will not get anything. He is effectively backing a government led by an ultranationalist who wants to expand settlements.”
How Mr. Bennett would exercise power in a coalition with many members well to the left of him, including the chief architect of the agreement, Yair Lapid, remains unclear. But Mr. Netanyahu’s hold on Israeli society and the Israeli imagination has been such over the past dozen years that his eventual departure inevitably seems synonymous with new possibility.
Commenting in the newspaper Yediot Ahronot, Merav Batito wrote: “Abbas’ signature is much more than a formal token of agreement.” She added, “The first concrete wall built between Arabs and Jews by the Parliament deep in Israeli society has been breached.”
At first blush, the Israeli coalition announced Wednesday looked like good news for America’s overwhelmingly liberal-leaning Jews, whose support for Israel has been tested by serious political and religious strains during the Netanyahu era.
After years in which religious matters in Israel were dictated by the ultra-Orthodox, a Reform rabbi — representing a stream of Judaism that is vast in the United States but minuscule in Israel — was set to be part of the governing coalition for the first time. An aborted agreement to let non-Orthodox Jews pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem seemed likely to be revived.
“A new day is dawning,” the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rick Jacobs, wrote on Twitter.
For American Jews who struggle to defend Israel against accusations that its treatment of the Palestinians constitutes apartheid, the new coalition’s inclusion of an Arab, Islamist party, seemed to offer at least a new talking point, if not a refutation.
“Nothing to see here,” Avi Mayer, a spokesman for the American Jewish Committee, posted over a widely circulated photo of the lawmakers Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett and Mansour Abbas, “just the leaders of a secular centrist party, a religious Jewish party, and an Islamist Arab party signing an agreement to form Israel’s next government.”
Yet official statements from major American Jewish organizations were in short supply — in part, some leaders said, because the new coalition appears so shaky, and Mr. Netanyahu’s chances of blowing it apart are taken so seriously, that it would be unwise to congratulate the new government until it manages to vote itself into existence.
There were other reasons to hedge: Those on the left are more than leery about seeing Mr. Bennett, a champion of settlements and annexation of West Bank land, as prime minister. And Mr. Abbas’s conservative stands on social issues pose other problems for American liberals: He vowed to oppose gay-rights legislation, for example.
In an almost painfully calibrated statement, T’ruah, a human-rights group of progressive Jewish clergy in North America, welcomed Mr. Netanyahu’s apparent ouster but lamented that the coalition’s diversity would make it impossible either “to make peace with the Palestinians” or to “bring about major social change within Israel.”
On the political right, ordinarily voluble American allies of Mr. Netanyahu were surprisingly quiet about the historic power shift unfolding in Israel.
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, managed only to retweet a New York Post opinion writer asking if the participation of Mr. Abbas’s group meant that the new government included “a Muslim Brotherhood-type party.”
Almost alone among the largest U.S. Jewish organizations, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee was quick to offer congratulations to Mr. Lapid and Mr. Bennett. AIPAC’s longtime strategy of cultivating and leveraging bipartisan congressional support for Israel was sorely tested by Mr. Netanyahu, eroding the common ground between Democrats and Republicans on Israel.
Mr. Lapid, who has clamored to repair Israel’s ties to the Democratic Party, and Mr. Bennett, the son of American immigrants to Israel and a former diaspora affairs minister, could help AIPAC regain relevance.
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.
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.”
During the rainiest days of the winter, many residents of Khasham Zana, a small Bedouin community in the Negev desert in southern Israel, feel trapped in their community.
The heavy rains transform the dirt paths leading to the main highway into muddy trails, forcing a large number of villagers without heavy-duty vehicles to stay home. “When it comes down hard, I feel cut off from the world,” said Kayed al-Athamen, a community leader. “It’s like I’m on an island.”
Israel has not recognized Bedouin land ownership claims over dozens of villages in the Negev, including Khasham Zana, where residents live in makeshift homes and suffer from a lack of basic water and power infrastructure.
But the emerging Israeli government intends to take significant strides to address the plight of the unrecognized Bedouin communities, according to Raam, an Arab party that agreed to join the nascent coalition.
The government will recognize Khasham Zana and two other villages in the Negev in the first 45 days of its term, Raam said in a statement on Wednesday, and it will prepare a plan to deal with other unrecognized villages in the area in its initial nine months.
“We are observing the political developments with great caution, but we feel that there is reason to be hopeful for a better and more prosperous future,” said Mr. al-Athamen, 40.
Some right-wing members of the rising coalition have suggested they would not accept major steps to recognize villages in the Negev, raising questions about whether it will be able to muster enough support to make such moves.
“We are not abandoning the Negev. Period,” Nir Orbach, a member of the hard-right Yamina party, tweeted on Wednesday.
Past government attempts to advance the recognition of Khasham Zana have failed. In December, the government appeared poised to recognize the village and the southern communities of Rukhma and Abda, but the effort stalled after lawmakers quarreled over it.
Many residents of Khasham Zana live in tin shacks and rely on solar panels to turn light on at night, run their refrigerators and charge their phones. They depend on makeshift pipes to transport water to their homes from a nearby distribution point.
Israeli officials have argued that Bedouin in unrecognized villages do not have valid claims to the land, and courts have backed up their views.
They have also said they cannot provide services to every far-flung group of shacks and tents. And they have argued that housing solutions for unrecognized villages lie in places like Rahat, one of several government-established towns in the Negev where the state has encouraged Bedouin to relocate.
Residents of Khasham Zana said their families had been living in the village since before the establishment of Israel in 1948, and they feel pulled to continue living and raising their children there.
In total, there are 37 villages in the Negev that Israel considers illegal, according to Migel al-Hawashla, a field coordinator at the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for unrecognized communities in the Negev.
One of the most frustrating aspects of living without basic power infrastructure, said Fares al-Hameidi, a resident of Khasham Zana, is having to tolerate summer heat waves.
“My whole family and I sweat profusely on hot summer days,” said Mr. Hameidi, 43, a father of 11. “I wish we had enough power to keep the fan on all day, but unfortunately that’s not the reality.”
With so many possible ways that the fragile coalition of disparate political parties could unravel, time is not on their side.
The longer it takes to ratify the new government, the greater the chance that it could collapse. And the speaker of the Israeli Parliament, Yariv Levin, who controls the house agenda, is a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s party and can use parliamentary procedure to delay the confidence vote until June 14, constitutional experts said.
One way to speed up the process would be for the new coalition parties to demand a vote to replace Mr. Levin with their own speaker, a move that would require a majority of 61 in the 120-seat Parliament.
But in an early sign of trouble, an official from Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party said that one of its seven lawmakers, Nir Orbach, had asked for his signature to be removed from the list of those seeking to replace the speaker.
Mr. Orbach, who provides the crucial 61st vote, since another Yamina member has vowed to oppose the move, had been wavering in his support for the emerging coalition.
Seizing on Mr. Orbach’s qualms, Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party disseminated a call for a demonstration outside Mr. Orbach’s house on Thursday evening “to strengthen” his resolve to abandon the coalition, in an illustration of the pressures that Mr. Netanyahu’s camp is exerting on Yamina members.
Without Mr. Orbach, the emerging coalition can count on the support of only 60 lawmakers, and Mr. Bennett held two meetings with the wavering lawmaker in an effort to keep him onboard.
On Thursday afternoon, the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties — which does not include Raam, the small Arab party that is part of the alliance — said that all six of its lawmakers would support a vote to replace Mr. Levin, the Parliament speaker.
Such a move could solve the problem, but that in turn presents another challenge for the right-wing parties in the proposed coalition: In the past, they have explicitly ruled out relying on the support of Joint List lawmakers, many of whom espouse harder-line positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than Raam does.
Honing in again on the weaknesses of the coalition, Likud issued a statement saying that the Joint List’s support was “winning proof of the full-on cooperation between the Joint List and the left-wing government of Lapid and Bennett.”
Another mass demonstration was planned for Thursday night outside the Tel Aviv home of Ayelet Shaked, Mr. Bennett’s chief lieutenant, to try to pressure her into abandoning the coalition.
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.
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.”