A coalition, if they can keep it: Israel may finally have a new government

By Patrick Kingsley and Eric Nagourney

After four elections in two years and now unsettled by a recent war and civil unrest, Israelis awoke Thursday to the possibility that they might have a government — and that the longest-serving leader in their history might have been ousted.

Late Wednesday, an improbable assemblage of political parties agreed to form a coalition government. Should parliament approve the arrangement, Benjamin Netanyahu’s singular reign as prime minister will come to an end, at least for now, and a fragile, painfully cobbled together alliance will assume power.

But Netanyahu signaled early Thursday that he would not go down without a struggle, calling on lawmakers to oppose “this dangerous left-wing government.”

While he appeared to have few avenues to hang onto power, Netanyahu’s career has been marked by a keen instinct for political survival.

Under the last-minute agreement by a coalition of opposition parties, Naftali Bennett, who opposes a Palestinian state and is a standard-bearer for religious nationalists, will serve as prime minister until 2023.

Should the new government hold together that long, the deal then calls for him to be replaced by Yair Lapid, a centrist former television host considered a standard-bearer for secular Israelis. Lapid would serve the remaining two years of the coalition’s term.

The strange-bedfellows nature of that arrangement mirrors the agreement that brought it about, an alliance among eight political parties from a diverse array of ideologies, from the left to the far right — among them the first independent Arab group to join a governing political alliance in Israeli history.

While some analysts hailed the arrangement as a reflection of the breadth and complexity of contemporary Israeli society, others said it embodied Israel’s political dysfunction. They also predicted that the compact would not last, given the incompatibility of those who signed it.

Nevertheless, after two years of a political impasse that has left Israel without a stable government or a state budget, it was movement. And it signaled a turning point for Netanyahu, a leader who has defined contemporary Israel more than any other, turning it hard to the right. He has been in office for 12 consecutive years and in all has held power for 15.

Bennett, a former ally of Netanyahu’s, is widely viewed as even further to the right. But he said he was throwing in his lot with his ideological opposites as a last resort to end Israel’s political crisis and try to prevent it from “dismantling the walls of the country, brick by brick, until our house falls in on us.”

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