Benjamin Netanyahu's 12 years as Israeli PM set to end as rivals agree to form government

2 June 2021, 21:42 | Updated: 9 June 2021, 05:46

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Benjamin Netanyahu's 12-year spell as Israel's prime minister is set to come to an end after opposition parties reached a deal to form a coalition government.

Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid Party, informed Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday that he has successfully formed a government.

He will serve as prime minister alongside Naftali Bennett, leader of the ultranationalist New Right Party.

Mr Bennett will sit as Israeli PM first until August 2023 under a rotation arrangement in which both men will lead the country for two years.

There will be a parliamentary vote prior to the government being formally sworn in, which is expected to be a formality. However, if the coalition fails to win the confidence vote it will force Israel into a fifth election in two years.

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Benjamin Netanyahu's 12 years as Israel's prime minister is to come to an end
Benjamin Netanyahu's 12 years as Israel's prime minister is to come to an end. Picture: PA

President Rivlin has called on parliament to convene immediately for the vote.

In a statement, Mr Lapid said he had told the president about the agreement, adding: "I pledge that this government will work in the service of all Israeli citizens, those who voted for it and those who did not.

"It will respect its opponents and do everything in its power to unite and connect all parts of Israeli society."

Despite Mr Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party winning the most seats in March's election, his failure to secure a majority meant he was forced into seeking a coalition.

However, he was unable to form a governing coalition after being given the mandate.

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The opposition parties had until midnight local time (10pm BST) to agree on a deal, meaning the agreement was reached with just minutes to spare.

One image shared on social media shows Mr Lapid, Mr Bennett and Mansour Abbas - leader of the Arab Islamist Raam Party - signing the agreement.

Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer described it as "a historic photo" whether or not the new unity government is sworn in.

The coalition consists of a diverse range of members with little in common politically except from their desire to depose Mr Netanyahu.

It includes eight different parties, of which two are centrist, one is centre-right to right wing, another is centre-right to right-wing nationalist, one is social democratic, another is right wing and one is a left wing social democratic party.

It also sees an Arab party included in the Jewish state's government for the first time in its 73-year history.

On Sunday, Mr Bennett said that he would "do everything to form a national unity government" with Mr Lapid.

However, Mr Netanyahu said the coalition would "weaken Israel" and could endanger the security of the country.

The Israeli PM, who is on trial for fraud, failed to win a decisive majority during a general election in March - the country's fourth since 2019 - meaning a coalition was necessary to prevent another vote.

He also accused Mr Bennett of carrying out "the fraud of the century" after previously promising not to form a coalition with Mr Lapid - a former finance minister whose party came second to Mr Netanyahu's right-wing Likud at the previous election.

The PM offered to form a coalition with the ultranationalists and another party on Saturday night, however this was swiftly rejected.