Netanyahu's opponents hashing out deal as deadline looms

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Chairman of the Yesh Atid Party, Yair Lapid, delivers a statement to the press in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, in Jerusalem, on Monday, May 31, 2021. (Debbie Hill/Pool via AP)

JERUSALEM – A constellation of Israeli political parties seeking to unseat longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened Monday to hash out power-sharing agreements two days before a deadline.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said at a meeting of his Yesh Atid party that “a great many obstacles” stood before a prospective government. But he said the various members of the anti-Netanyahu coalition are trying “to see if we can find in the coming days wise compromises for the sake of the big aim.”

Lapid was tasked by the country’s figurehead president with forming a government earlier this month after Netanyahu failed to do so in the aftermath of the March 23 elections, the fourth in two years.

On Sunday, Naftali Bennett, head of the small, hard-line nationalist Yamina party, said he would work with Lapid to form a broad unity government and “save the country from a tailspin and return Israel to its course.” Lapid has already secured the support of two smaller liberal parties and a secular ultranationalist faction.

Bennett and Lapid have until Wednesday to hammer out a deal in which the pair split the premiership — with Bennett serving the first two years and Lapid the following two.

No political party has ever won an outright majority in Israel's 120-seat parliament, the Knesset, forcing smaller factions to band together to form a coalition with more than 61 seats.

If Lapid and his allies — which range from hard-line nationalists to liberal Zionists and a small Islamist party — can overcome their differences and seal a deal, it would spell the end of Netanyahu's rule, for the time being.

Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, having held office since 2009, as well as a brief stint in the late 1990s. Despite his Likud party being the largest faction in the Knesset, he has become a divisive figure. Israel has held four parliamentary elections in the past two years, all seen as a referendum on his fitness to rule.