Israel’s opposition has finally mustered a majority to dislodge Binyamin Netanyahu
NAFTALI BENNETT, the tech millionaire turned politician (pictured) who is poised to become Israel’s next prime minister, began his political career in 2006 as chief of staff to Binyamin Netanyahu, then the leader of the opposition. Mr Bennett admired him for years and played a key role in his return to power in 2009. His memoir begins with a note of gratitude to his former boss, and ends with an adulatory chapter entitled “What I learned from Binyamin Netanyahu”.Times have changed. On May 30th Mr Bennett accused Mr Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, of “trying to take the entire state of Israel with him to his personal Masada”—a reference to the hilltop fortress where Jewish rebels committed mass suicide 1,900 years ago, rather than be captured by Roman soldiers. He is one of a long line of former aides and ministers who have turned on their old boss, not because they disagree with his hardline policies, but, as Mr Bennett explained, “because no one believed [Mr Netanyahu’s] promises would be kept.” Three of those former aides now lead small right-wing parties sworn to remove Mr Netanyahu. This unites them in an unlikely coalition with centrist, left-wing and Arab-Israeli parties, which may finally end Israel’s political deadlock.Since March 2019 Israel has held four parliamentary elections in which the bloc of right-wing and religious parties loyal to Mr Netanyahu have failed to win a majority in the 120-member Knesset. Fortunately for them, however, the opposition proved too fractious to form a government.After the third election, in April 2020, Mr Netanyahu managed to cajole Benny Gantz, a centrist general who then led the opposition, to join him in government by appealing to a sense of national duty during the covid-19 pandemic. But Mr Netanyahu, who was reluctant to fulfil the agreement under which Mr Gantz would have replaced him as prime minister in November this year, reneged on his promises to pass a new state budget, leading to yet another election on March 23rd.This time around, the opposition, under a new centrist leader, Yair Lapid, finally got its act together. Mr Lapid convinced his right-wing partners to join a government supported by Zionist left-wing parties and also, for the first time, Ra’am, a conservative Muslim party. He wooed Mr Bennett by promising him the prime ministership for the first two years of the new government’s term. The deal was nearly sealed on May 10th, but the outbreak of warfare between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, coupled with rioting between Jews and Arabs on Israel’s streets, suspended the coalition talks. The ceasefire, 11 days later, restarted them.Mustering a majority, after failing to do so in three previous elections, is a major milestone for the opposition. But it still has to seal the deal, and Mr Netanyahu will fight them every inch of the way until the new government is inaugurated.Mr Lapid, meanwhile, still has to finalise detailed coalition agreements with four of the seven partners, each eager for ministries and funding that will satisfy their voters. Then the new government has to win its initial confidence vote. With a wafer-thin majority, wavering members, especially those from right-wing parties, will remain under intense pressure from Mr Netanyahu and his supporters not to “betray” their camp. One member of Mr Bennett’s party has already defected to the embattled prime minister.In a televised tantrum, Mr Netanyahu accused Mr Bennett of carrying out “the fraud of the century”. He compared the new coalition to Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria and to the rulers of Iran. The homes of some of the incoming government’s members have been surrounded by pro-Netanyahu protesters waving signs calling them “left-wing traitors”. Such intimidation has worked in the past, but this time Mr Netanyahu’s bag of tricks is starting to look threadbare.Israel appears to be on the verge of having a government. How long it will last is anyone’s guess.