Netanyahu Era Over? Israel’s Longest Serving Prime Minister Fails to Form a New Government

Ron Cantor —  May 6, 2021 — Leave a comment
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After four elections in two years and a month of strange deal-making attempts, Benjamin Netanyahu failed to build a governing coalition by midnight Tuesday. His reign as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister—12 years—could come to an end. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has now turned to Yesh Atid leader, Yair Lapid, and tasked him with forming a government.

Lapid has already garnered the support of 56 members of the 120 member Knesset, but he still needs five more to get to the majority threshold necessary to govern. Yesh Atid, Lapid’s party, is more centrist in its policies, but Lapid says he is open to left, right, and center parties in his government.

“After two years of political paralysis, Israeli society is hurting. A unity government isn’t a compromise or a last resort—it’s a goal, it’s what we need,” Lapid said in a statement. “We need a government that will reflect the fact we don’t hate each other.” He also promised to “do everything” to bring a coalition together quickly. Lapid has 28 days to form a governing coalition.

Six members of the center-right New Hope party and five of the Joint Alliance (mostly Arab parties) have already given their support to Lapid. The centrist Blue and White, leftist Labor, leftist Meretz, and secular nationalist Yisrael Beytenu parties have also joined with Lapid. The ultra-right religious groups, as well as the Islamist party, Ra’am, are not in support of Lapid at this point.

The right-wing Yamina party continues to back their leader, Naftali Bennett, for prime minister. Yamina and their seven MKs (members of the Knesset) are brokering for an opportunity for Bennett to share power with Lapid, taking turns as prime minister. However, at least one of Yamina’s MKs, and perhaps more, is withholding his support, citing possible ideological reservations about Lapid’s bloc that is forming.

After the elections at the end of March, Netanyahu was also a few members short of the 61 needed to govern. Since then, he has worked on all sorts of deals, ranging from looking for a way to welcome the Islamist party, Ra’am, into his coalition, to the so-called “Putin Plan” where he would share power with another leader, letting them serve as prime minster first while he remained in the Balfour House, the iconic residence of Israel’s prime ministers.

Ultimately, no one took him up on his offers before midnight Tuesday. Over the years, Netanyahu has left a trail of fractured relationships and distrust among his former aides and ministers, many of whom now head conservative parties in competition with him. All refused to partner with him, despite their common governing goals.

In a televised speech after President Rivlin tapped Lapid to form a government, Netanyahu warned Israelis that Lapid’s coalition would “be a dangerous left-wing government.”

Netanyahu’s political and personal future is uncertain. He and his wife, Sarah, are the subjects of an ongoing criminal corruption trial on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. The Yamina party’s number two leader and Netanyahu’s former Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, was recently caught on tape saying both Netanyahu and his wife are “tyrants” with a “lust for power.” Netanyahu insists he is the victim of a witch hunt and denies all wrongdoing.

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