Netanyahu in the corner as ‘change’ alliance gathers pace

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Gaza

Political rivals of Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raced on Monday to forge a diverse coalition to oust the country’s longest-serving leader.

The hard-right tech millionaire Naftali Bennett was in talks with the centrist former TV anchor Yair Lapid on the terms of a “change” alliance that would end the Netanyahu era.

Israel — after reaching a May 21 ceasefire that halted a bloody military conflict with Hamas in Gaza — has been thrown into fresh political turmoil.

After Israel’s fourth inconclusive elections in less than two years in March, Lapid has been given a mandate to try and build a new government by midnight Wednesday, AFP reported.

His chances rose when Bennett declared Sunday he would join a multi-party “national unity government” in which he and Lapid would take turns to serve as premier.

Such a coalition would still need the support of other parties and lawmakers to gain a majority of 61 seats in the 120-member Knesset, Israel’s legislature.

Netanyahu, in power for the past 12 years following an earlier three-year term, was fighting for his political life, warning of “a left-wing government dangerous to the state of Israel”.

The 71-year-old, known as Bibi, is Israel’s longest serving prime minister, and the first to face criminal charges while in office — on fraud, bribery and breach of trust charges, which he denies.

The combative premier lashed out at Bennett, accusing him of “the scam of the century” for running on a right-wing platform but then joining a prospective government that includes liberal parties.

Lapid, 57, is seeking to cobble together a diverse alliance which would include Bennett, a supporter of Jewish settlements in the Israel-occupied West Bank, as well as Arab-Israeli lawmakers.

In order to build such an anti-Netanyahu bloc, he must sign individual agreements with seven parties, whose members would then vote in parliament to confirm the coalition.

Among them are the centrist Blue and White party of Defense Minister Benny Gantz and the hawkish New Hope party of Netanyahu’s former ally Gideon Saar.

Avigdor Lieberman’s pro-settlement Yisrael Beitenu party as well as the historically powerful center-left Lab our party and the dovish Meretz party would also join. — AFP

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