JERUSALEM —Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies on Monday worked furiously to keep opposition parties from forming a government that would displace him from Israel’s top political job for the first time in more than 12 years.
Netanyahu supporters slammed right-wing parties planning to join the broad-based coalition as “traitors,” picketed their homes and in some cases issued threats that led police to provide additional security to at least two of the targeted politicians.
The attacks came as members of the coalition finalized their agreement to form a power-sharing government that would include former Netanyahu allies, centrists and liberals, and even the indirect support of an Arab-Islamist party. The arrangement, which could come up for a vote by the full parliament within the week, would potentially end more than two years of political stalemate in which no faction has been able to secure a governing majority after four inconclusive elections.
Negotiators for the anti-Netanyahu parties achieved a breakthrough Sunday when former defense minister and Netanyahu ally, Naftali Bennett, announced he was joining the so-called change coalition being assembled by former TV news anchor and centrist politician Yair Lapid. In exchange for his Yamina Party’s six Knesset seats, Bennett will become Israel’s prime minister for a set number of years before Lapid takes over for a turn of his own, according to reports on the agreements in Israeli media.
Bennett, who would be Israel’s first religious prime minister, has advocated for annexation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 war. Though in his role as prime minister in a mixed government, Bennett is not expected to translate those ideological views into official policy, analysts say.
Talks to finalize the deal, including the apportionment of ministries between more than half a dozen participating parties, went until 3 a.m. Monday morning, media reports said, and party leaders said they expected to present a formal proposal to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in the coming days.
Lapid’s mandate to form a government expires at midnight Wednesday, but he would have up to a week for the Knesset to vote on the coalition agreement.
Netanyahu reacted with outrage at Bennett’s move, accusing his former protege of committing “the fraud of the century” in a televised remarks Sunday night. Netanyahu supporters branded Bennett and his fellow party leader Ayelet Shaked, a former justice minister, as betrayers of their right-wing voters that would usher in a resurgence of Israel’s long-diminished left wing.
“Hearing Bennett’s words made every right-wing stomach churn,” commentator Mati Tuchfeld wrote in the right-wing, pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom. “Every word in his speech was like a punch in the gut to the people who had believed him and had followed his lead.”
Small groups of protesters gathered at the two party leaders’ homes Sunday. Some carried signs reading “treasonous leftists” in front Shaked’s residence in Tel Aviv and Bennett’s in the central Israeli city of Raanana. In response, Knesset security officials and police arranged for them to be accompanied by an extra protective detail, according to Kan radio.
Lapid said that he, Bennett, Shaked, Israel’s attorney general and several Israeli journalists who have been covering the political developments had all received death threats as a result of Netanyahu’s incitement.
“A country that is divided and violent won’t be able to deal with Iran or with the economy,” he said. “A leadership that incites us against one another harms our ability to deal with the challenges we face.”
“Political opponents from the Left are not our enemies,” said Gideon Saar, another former Netanyahu ally and member of the change coalition. “There is an incitement machine that is running even before this government did anything, an incitement machine that has nothing to do with ideology, but only with anxiety about the loss of power.”
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