Explainer | What’s next for Benjamin Netanyahu?

A group of parties have managed to stitch together a coalition that could see Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister ousted from power.

June 03, 2021 06:43 pm | Updated November 30, 2021 06:25 pm IST

Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu

The story so far: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister, may finally be on his way-out. Eight political parties, from the rightwing Yamina to the Arab-majority Ra’am (United Arab List), have come together to form a new coalition , which, if proves majority in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, could oust Mr. Netanyau, who has been in power since 2009.

Why a new coalition?

Israel saw four national elections in the past two years. In all these elections, no party won a majority on its own. After the March 2020 polls, Mr. Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party joined hands with Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White to form a unity government. But the fractious coalition did not last long.

In December, the government collapsed after the Knesset failed to pass the annual budget, pushing Israel into another election. In the March 2021 election, the voters gave another split verdict. Likud emerged as the biggest party with 30 seats out of the 120-member Knesset, but failed to form a coalition with the support of 61 lawmakers — the majority-mark. After Netanyahu’s failure to form the government, President Reuven Rivlin invited Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid, which is the second largest party in the current Knesset with 17 members, to form the government. It’s Mr. Lapid who put together the ‘change’ coalition.

Who all are there in the coalition?

In 2020, Mr. Lapid’s Yesh Atid fought the elections as part of the Blue and White coalition. But when Blue and White leader Mr. Gantz decided to join Mr. Netanyahu’s unity government, Mr. Lapid parted ways. He was the Opposition leader in the last Knesset. Now, Mr. Lapid and Mr. Gantz have come together again. Their parties have 25 MKs (Members of Knesset) together. Six other parties have also joined them – the rightwing Yamina (7 MKs), centre-right New Hope (6 MKs); centre-left Meretz (6MKs) and Labour (7 MKs); secular right Yisrael Beiteinu (7 MKs); and Arab Ra’am (4 MKs). The eight-party coalition has 62 MKs among themselves. But one of Yamina MKs, Amichai Chikli, has already said he would not support the coalition. That has left the coalition with a razor-thin majority of one seat.

What happens next?

According to the coalition agreement, Yamina leader Naftali Bennet, who was earlier with the far-right-religious Jewish Home party, could be the next Prime Minister. Mr. Bennet, a kippa-wearing politician who is opposed to the creation of an independent Palestinian state, could be the first leader forming a government with support from an Arab party in Israel’s history. Mr. Bennet, according to the coalition pact, could remain the Prime Minister for two years and then Mr. Lapid will get the top job. But the coalition has hardly anything in common but their goal to see Mr. Netanyahu go. So it has to be seen how long the coalition will last.

By signing the unity agreements, Mr. Lapid, the architect of the coalition, has passed the first test. But the next is the most important one – win the confidence of the Knesset. The current Speaker is Likud’s Yariv Levin. Mr. Lapid has accused him of delaying the vote so that Mr. Netanyahu will have more time to try to persuade rightwing MKs (of Yamina and New Hope) to vote against the Bennet-Lapid government. One Yamina MK has already revolted against Mr. Bennet’s decision. Another one, Nir Orbach, has expressed his doubts about the coalition. If he switches sides, the coalition won’t have a majority. But two members of the Joint List (another Arab platform that has 6 MKs) are undecided how to vote. If they vote for the ‘change’ government, it could sail through despite the rebellion within Yamina.

What’s next for Netanyahu?

For Mr. Netanyahu, the best outcome is Mr. Bennet’s failure to prove majority in the Knesset. The country would then move into another round of elections, and he could stay in power until the next government is formed — which could be months away. Being in power would also offer some immunity to Mr. Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption. If ousted, he could remain the Opposition leader.

He has already launched a broadside against Mr. Bennet, saying he is forming a left-wing government that would endanger Israel’s security. But Mr. Netanyahu’s repeated failures to form a stable government have shaken his hold over Likud. Out of power, he could face leadership challenges within the party. In 2019, Gideon Saar had unsuccessfully challenged him for Likud’s leadership. It may be too early to write Mr. Netanyahu off. But if the ‘change’ coalition forms a government, Mr. Netanyahu’s political future would be thrown into uncertainty.

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