Jerusalem: Israel's Opposition parties on Thursday set the wheels in motion for a potential national unity government after clinching a last-minute agreement to oust Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest-serving prime minister in the Jewish nation's history.
Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, announced an eight-party coalition had been formed after tough political negotiations.
Under a rotation arrangement, the head of the Right-wing Yamina party, Naftali Bennett, 49, would serve as the prime minister first before handing over to Lapid.
Lapid, 57, officially informed President Reuven Rivlin and Knesset (Parliament) Speaker Yariv Levin about the deal late Wednesday night, barely half an hour before the Wednesday midnight deadline.
The announcement came after a series of back-to-back meetings with the leaders of the anti-Netanyahu camp in the 120-member Knesset.
"In accordance with Clause 13(b) of the Basic Law: The Government – I am honoured to inform you that I have succeeded in forming a government...MK (Member of Knesset) Naftali Bennett will serve as a prime minister first,” Lapid told Rivlin.
"I commit to you Mr President that this government will work to serve all the citizens of Israel including those who aren't members of it, will respect those who oppose it and do everything in its power to unite all parts of Israeli society," the Yesh Atid party leader said.
Lapid will serve as foreign minister until the two men swap roles halfway through the term.
There still needs to be a parliamentary vote before the government is sworn in.
The Israeli president thanked Lapid saying, "We expect the Knesset will convene as soon as possible to ratify the government, as required.”
The development, seen by some as historic as it includes an Arab party in the coalition, will break an ongoing political impasse that has seen Israel go through four polls yielding inconclusive results in less than two years.
Lapid's coalition is composed of Yesh Atid, Yamina, Kahol Lavan, New Hope, Labor, Yisrael Beiteinu, Meretz and United Arab List.
Netanyahu, 71, in his first reaction on Twitter said "all legislators elected by votes from the right must oppose this dangerous left-wing government."
The Opposition on Thursday moved quickly to push for a vote for the Knesset Speaker to be replaced as soon as possible.
The move to replace Likud’s Yariv Levin is designed to deny the Speaker the chance to drag his feet on scheduling a confidence vote on the new government.
In the letter to the Knesset’s secretary-general, the Opposition bloc asked that a vote to replace Levin with Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy as Speaker be placed on the agenda at the next plenum session, which is set to take place on Monday.
The move underlined fears in the coalition that Knesset members will get cold feet before the government is sworn in, The Times of Israel said.
Meanwhile, Bennett was given full prime-ministerial Shin Bet protection on Thursday morning.
The internal undercover security agency said that "in the Shin Bet's capacity to ensure continued democratic order and securing [vital] individuals, and based on the judgment of the Attorney-General, starting today, the Shin Bet's personal security division will guard MK Naftali Bennett."
If successful in passing the floor test in the Knesset, the new government would save the country from the ignominious spectre of a fifth election since April 2019.
Netanyahu holds the record of being the longest-serving Israeli prime minister, surpassing founding father Ben Gurion, as he also served a term between 1996 and 1999.
His ouster also results from the coming together of some "friends turned foes" who were ideologically closer to his party but determined to boot him out.
The proposed coalition is unique in the sense that it comprises not only political formations from the Left, Centre and Right but also an Arab nationalist party, a historic development not seen since the establishment of the Jewish state.
The tide started to turn against Netanyahu when Bennett, who has served in the past as his chief of staff and held various portfolios as a minister over the years, made clear on May 24 that he was going to negotiate a coalition deal with Lapid.
Netanyahu has accused Bennett of betraying the Israeli Right-wing.
If Lapid had not mustered a coalition by Wednesday midnight, the entire Knesset would have had three weeks in which to agree on a new candidate who could muster the support of 61 lawmakers.
In the most recent elections, on March 23, Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Party garnered the most seats in the Knesset or parliament. But the Prime Minister was unable to command enough support to control a minimum of 61 seats in Israel's 120-seat Parliament.
The President then tasked Lapid with forming a government.
According to Israeli law, the Knesset must hold a vote of confidence within a week of being formally notified of a new government being formed.
Netanyahu remains prime minister until someone else is sworn in.
Getting unseated from premiership at this juncture would be a huge blow for Netanyahu, popularly nicknamed Bibi, as his trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust picks up steam in Jerusalem’s District Court.
Netanyahu, who has dominated Israeli politics for a generation, has dismissed the charges as a politically motivated witch-hunt, aimed at toppling his premiership.
As Prime Minister, Netanyahu has been accused of assailing the courts, attorneys-general and police investigators, accusing them of bias.
If the coalition fails to win the support of a majority in the Knesset, there is a risk of the country having to go to elections for the fifth time in two years.
On the other hand, a successful coalition deal would put an end to the record-setting tenure of Netanyahu, at least for the time being, who has led Israel at the helm of affairs uninterrupted since 2009.