Israel's Lapid enlists Defence Minister Gantz, moves closer to unseating PM Netanyahu

JERUSALEM (REUTERS) – Israel’s opposition leader moved closer to unseating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday (June 2) after agreeing to terms with several parties, including one led by Defence Minister Benny Gantz, for a proposed new government, a spokesman said.

Mr Yair Lapid, a centrist tasked with forming the next governing coalition after the conservative Mr Netanyahu failed to do so in the wake of an inconclusive March 23 election, has until midnight (6am Thursday, Singapore time) on Wednesday to present a final slate.

Mr Lapid has yet to clinch a deal with his main partner, nationalist Naftali Bennett, who would serve as premier first under a proposed rotation between the two men.

Mr Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and Mr Gantz’s centrist Blue and White said in a joint statement they had “agreed on the outlines of the government and core issues relating to the strengthening of democracy and Israeli society”.

Mr Gantz would remain defence minister in the new Cabinet, the parties said.

Deals have also been reached with the left-wing Meretz and centre-left Labour parties as well as with former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, a Lapid spokesman said.

The United Arab List was also negotiating to join the coalition. If it does, it would be the first time in Israel’s history that an independent Arab party becomes a member of the government.

Mr Netanyahu, in power for the past 12 years, has sought to discredit Mr Bennett and two other rightists negotiating with Mr Lapid, saying they were endangering Israel’s security.

Keeping the door open to them, Israel’s longest-serving leader has said he is still capable of forming the next government.

If Mr Lapid misses Wednesday’s deadline – marking the end of a 28-day presidential mandate to put together a coalition – Parliament will have three weeks in which to agree on a new candidate.

If that fails, Israel will hold another election, its fifth in some two years.