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June 23, 2021

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Netanyahu’s grip on power loosens as Israeli Opposition moves to unseat him

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Israeli nationalist hardliner Naftali Bennett said Sunday he would join a potential coalition government that could end the rule of the country’s longest-serving leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lawmakers opposed to right-wing Netanyahu have been in intense talks ahead of a Wednesday deadline, as a ceasefire held following the latest deadly military conflict with Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Lapid’s chances of success have rested largely with Bennett, a former defence chief and a high-tech millionaire whose Yamina party’s six seats in the 120-member parliament are enough to give him the status of kingmaker.

Under a prospective power-sharing deal, Bennett would replace Netanyahu, the 71-year-old head of the Likud party, as prime minister and later give way to centrist Lapid in a rotation agreement.

The new prospective coalition’s diverse members would have little in common apart from the desire to end the 12-year run of Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, now on trial over corruption charges that he denies.

An anti-Netanyahu alliance would be fragile and require outside backing by Arab members of parliament who oppose much of Bennett’s agenda, which includes more settlement building in the occupied West Bank and its partial annexation.

‘Desperate position’

He had earlier Sunday tried to cling to power by offering his own, last-ditch power-sharing agreement to several former allies including Bennett.

He warned Israel would otherwise be ruled by a dangerous “left-wing” alliance.

It would be expected to focus on the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, while setting aside issues on which members disagree, such as the role of religion in society and Palestinian aspirations for statehood.

Netanyahu said in a statement earlier Sunday that he had signed a “far-reaching” proposal for Bennett and New Hope party leader, Gideon Saar, to “prevent the establishment of a dangerous left-wing government.” It would allow both to serve as prime minister, he said.

Bennett, a former defence minister, did not comment on his announcement.

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