Israeli far-right politician Naftali Bennett, a kingmaker whose Yamina party has six key seats in parliament, has said he would join a governing coalition that could end the rule of the country’s longest-serving leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“It’s my intention to do my utmost in order to form a national unity government along with my friend Yair Lapid, so that, God willing, together we can save the country from a tailspin and return Israel to its course,” Bennett said on Sunday after meeting with his own party, Yamina.
Centrist Lapid has been tasked with forming a new cabinet by 11:59pm (20:59 GMT) Wednesday.
Bennett’s announcement is a key step towards ending Netanyahu’s 12-year rule.
He said he had made the decision to prevent the country from sliding into a fifth consecutive election in just more than two years.
Minutes after Bennett’s announcement, Netanyahu lashed out, calling the plan “a danger for the security of Israel”.
He accused Bennett of betraying the Israeli right-wing and urged nationalist politicians who have joined the coalition talks not to establish what he called a “leftist government”.
Bennett, a Netanyahu aide-turned-rival, said there was no feasible way for the right-wing to form a governing majority in parliament.
“A government like this will succeed only if we work together as a group,” he said, adding that everyone “will need to postpone fulfilling all their dreams. We will focus on what can be done, instead of fighting all day on what’s impossible”.
Each of the past four elections was seen as a referendum on Netanyahu – who has become a polarising figure as he stands trial on corruption charges – with each ending in deadlock.
An anti-Netanyahu alliance would be fragile and require outside backing by Palestinian-Israeli members of parliament who oppose much of Bennett’s agenda, which includes more settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, as well as its partial annexation.
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 such a coalition was a danger to Israel’s security and future.
“What will it do for Israel’s deterrence? How will we look in the eyes of our enemies,” he said. “What will they do in Iran and in Gaza? What will they say in the halls of government in Washington?”
A Bennett-Lapid agreement had already been reported to be close when violence broke out between Israel and Hamas fighters on May 10 and Bennett suspended the discussions. The fighting ended with a ceasefire after 11 days.
A Palestine Liberation Organization official said, after Bennett’s speech, that the prospective government would be “extreme rightist” and no different than the administrations headed by Netanyahu.