Israel may soon have a new leader as an opposition leaders moved closer to unseating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday. It comes after several parties agreed on terms that may lead to ultra-conservative Naftali Bennett as the new leader.
During a historic 12-year run in the top office, Netanyahu has been the face of the Middle East’s only democracy. Unlike in the United States, a change in Israel’s leadership will have little to do with the country’s foreign policy though it could affect relations with Palestinian leaders. It will also likely have no impact on Israel’s struggle to contain terrorist rocket attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Nationalist Naftali Bennett, the former Defense Minister under Netanyahu, wants to annex Israel’s historical biblical heartland currently under PA control in the West Bank. The area had been under Jordanian occupation from 1948 until 1967 when Israel beat back an Arab invasion and took back control of what had been labeled by Jordan as the “West Bank.”
In the new deal Bennett would serve as Prime Minister first under a proposed rotation between him and Yair Lapid, a 57-year-old former TV host and author. Bennett would be the first Orthodox Jewish Prime Minister and the first born of American parents in the country’s history. Lapid is a centrist leaning towards the conservative side.
Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and Gantz’s Blue and White said in a joint statement they had “agreed on the outlines of the government and core issues relating to the strengthening of democracy and Israeli society.”
Gantz would remain defense minister in the new cabinet, the parties said.
Netanyahu, who first became Prime Minister 25 years ago, claims the two parties were endangering Israel’s security by including the Muslim Islamist Party in their coalition. The United Arab List was also negotiating to join the coalition. If it does, it would be the first time in Israel’s history that an independent Arab party becomes a member of the government though they have long held seats in the Knesset.
Deals have also been reached with the left-wing Meretz and Labor parties as well as with former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, a Lapid spokesman said.
If Lapid misses Wednesday’s deadline — marking the end of a 28-day presidential mandate to put together a coalition — parliament will have three weeks to agree on a new candidate.
While most Israeli’s credit Netanyahu for the country’s move into an equal standing with the United States, Japan and Europe in terms of advancements of industry, high tech, education, and medicine, they also believe it may be his time to go so the nation can move on.
Bennett is just 49, while Netanyahu is 71.
Should negotiations fail this week, Israel will hold another election, its fifth in some two years.
–Dwight Widaman and wire services