Just minutes after the deadline, opposition Israeli politicians notified President Reuven Rivlin they have reached an agreement to form what will be the first government involving someone of Arab descent.
Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett's accord would put an end to conservative Benjamin Netanyahu's 12-year tenure. The new coalition arrangement still needs to be approved by Israel's Parliament (Knesset). The coalition agreement includes Mansour Abbas of the United Arab Party (Ra’am).
Lapid, who leads the Yesh Atid party, told Rivlin shortly before midnight on Wednesday that he has “succeeded in forming a government” and that his coalition partner Bennett of Yamina “will serve as a prime minister first.” Lapid will take over as PM after two years, under the terms of the agreement.
Gideon Saar’s New Hope party added their six to the coalition following the Ra’am announcement. Lapid’s party has 17 seats. It takes 61 to have a governing majority in the 120-member Knesset.
Though Ra’am has only four MKs, their support potentially marks the first time an Arab party has come on board a ruling coalition.
Yamina’s Bennett was present for the deal, and also signed a coalition agreement with Lapid. They also secured the support of Blue and White, led by current Defense Minister Benny Gantz – his former coalition partner who had accepted a role in Netanyahu’s unity government in May 2020.
If Lapid and Bennett’s coalition gets approved by the Knesset, it will hold off the need for yet another general election; Israel has held four over the past two years, repeatedly failing to deliver a majority government. The vote may happen as early as next week, but the current Likud (Netanyahu's party) speaker of the Knesset is reportedly pushing for a delay, while Netanyahu himself tried to block the coalition on a technicality, but was overruled by President Rivlin, who will step down on July 9, when his term ends. Former Labor party head Isaac Herzog was elected to the ceremonial post on Wednesday with 87 votes, beating social activist Miriam Peretz.
Lapid, a former TV host and news anchor, founded Yesh Atid in 2012. The following year, Netanyahu brought him on board a unity government as finance minister – but fired him in 2014. The centrist then teamed up with Gantz to challenge Likud, only to fail when the Blue & White leader accepted another unity cabinet in 2020.
The conservative Bennett started his political career in 2006 as Netanyahu’s chief of staff and held a series of ministerial positions in Likud-led governments between 2013 and 2020 – when he was replaced by Gantz as defence minister and went into the opposition.
Meanwhile, Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog will be the 11th president of the State of Israel after he received 87 votes from MKs in a secret ballot vote in the Knesset plenum. Herzog’s opponent, Israel Prize-winning educator Miriam Peretz, received 27 votes and three MKs abstained. Had she been elected, Peretz would have become Israel’s first woman president.
It was the largest victory in any presidential election in Israel’s history. Herzog is the son of Chaim Herzog, who served as Israel’s president from 1983 to 1993.