Israel’s Lapid Enlists Gantz, Moves Closer to Unseating Netanyahu

June 2, 2021 Updated: June 2, 2021

JERUSALEM—Israel’s opposition leader moved closer to unseating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday and forming a new government after agreeing on terms with several parties including one led by Defence Minister Benny Gantz, a spokesman said.

During a 12-year run in the top office, Netanyahu has been an often polarizing figure at home and abroad. An end to his tenure may bring reprieve from domestic political turmoil, but major shifts in Israel’s foreign policy appear less likely from the staunch U.S. ally.

Yair Lapid, tasked with forming the next governing coalition after the conservative Netanyahu failed to do so in the wake of an inconclusive March 23 election, has until midnight local time on Wednesday to present a final slate.

Lapid, a 57-year-old former TV host and author, has yet to clinch a deal with his main partner, nationalist Naftali Bennett, who would serve as premier first under a proposed rotation between the two men.

Yair Lapid
Yair Lapid delivers a statement to the press before the party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem, Israel, on May 31, 2021. (Debbie Hill/Pool via Reuters)

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.

First Arab Party in Government?

Netanyahu, 71, has sought to discredit Bennett and two other lawmakers negotiating with Lapid, saying they were endangering Israel’s security.

Keeping the door open to them, Israel’s longest-serving leader, who was first elected prime minister a quarter-century ago, says he is still capable of forming the next government.

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.

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.

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.

Should that fail, Israel will hold another election, its fifth in some two years.