(AP) — The leader of a small hardline party says he will attempt to form a coalition government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
The announcement made on Sunday by Yamina Party leader Naftali Bennett
is a significant step toward the end of Netanyahu's 12-year rule.
Bennett stated during a nationally televised press conference that he would work
with opposition leader Yair Lapid to form a unity government.
“I intend to do everything in my power to form a national unity government with my friend Yair Lapid, so that, God willing, we can save the country from a tailspin and restore Israel
to its rightful place,” Bennett said.
He stated that he made the decision to keep the country from entering a fifth consecutive election in less than two years.
They have until the end of the day on Wednesday to reach an agreement.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS
UPDATE; the original story from the Associated Press
can be found below.
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's opponents appeared to be moving
closer to a coalition agreement, which could end the longtime Israeli leader's 12-year reign.
Following the March 23 elections
, Naftali Bennett, leader of the small Yamina party and a kingmaker, scheduled an 8 p.m. news conference to announce his decision to join a diverse group of opponents seeking to depose Netanyahu.
According to Israeli media
, party members endorsed the decision earlier Sunday. If he follows through, Bennett, a former Netanyahu aide turned rival, will play a key role in ending the prime minister's record-breaking term.
“The party unanimously supports Bennett and his efforts to form a government and avoid a fifth election,” the party said in a statement without going into further detail.
Over the past two years, Israel has held four consecutive elections, each of which was viewed as a referendum on Netanyahu, who has become a polarizing figure in Israeli politics
as a result of his ongoing corruption trial
, and each of which ended in a deadlock.
Netanyahu is desperate to remain in power while on trial, and he has used his office as a platform to rally support and lash out at police
, prosecutors, and the media.
If his opponents fail to form a government and new elections are called, he will have another chance to elect a parliament that supports granting him immunity from prosecution; if they succeed, he will be in the much weaker position of opposition leader, potentially facing unrest within his Likud party.
Netanyahu issued a desperate plea to Bennett to resist the temptation to join his opponents in a statement released on Sunday.
Bennett was accused of deceiving his supporters and abandoning his nationalistic principles "all for the sake of becoming Prime Minister at any cost."
A party leader must secure the support of a 61-seat majority in parliament in order to form a government, and because no single party can control a majority on its own, coalitions are usually formed with smaller partners.
The country's figurehead president gave Netanyahu the first chance to form a coalition as leader of the largest party, but he was unable to secure a majority with his traditional religious and nationalist allies.
Netanyahu even attempted to court a small Islamist Arab party, but was thwarted by a small ultranationalist party with a racist
anti-Arab agenda; despite the fact that Arabs make up roughly 20% of Israel's population, an Arab party has never sat in an Israeli coalition government.
Following Netanyahu's failure to form a government, Lapid was given four weeks to form a coalition, which he must complete by Wednesday.
Lapid already faced a difficult challenge, given the wide range of anti-Netanyahu parties, including dovish left-wing parties, a pair of right-wing nationalist parties, including Bennett's Yamina, and the Islamist United Arab List.
Lapid's task became even more difficult when war broke out with Hamas
militants in Gaza
on May 10. His coalition talks were put on hold during the 11-day conflict.
But, with the deadline approaching on Wednesday, negotiations have accelerated. Lapid has reached coalition agreements with three other parties so far, and if he can convince Bennett to join, the remaining partners are expected to fall into place quickly.