A Shaky Deal to Oust Netanyahu as "Change Bloc" (Mostly) Comes Together Just Before Midnight

With less than thirty minutes to go before Wednesday's midnight deadline, Yair Lapid pulled together enough signatures and deals to inform President Reuven Rivlin that he had a governing coalition and is prepared to allow Naftali Bennett of the Yamina party to be prime minister first in rotation.

The "change bloc" government coalition of right, left, and center parties includes an Arab party for the first time in the history of Israel. Alliances still seem fragile and could break apart before the ink dries, and the Knesset has an opportunity to formalize it with a vote twelve days from now.

If Lapid's unity government holds together, it will mean the end of Benjamin Netanyahu's 12-year reign as prime minister.

"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," Lapid said to Rivlin.

Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, and Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Yamina party, have agreed to rotate turns as prime minister, with Bennett going first. Lapid will serve as Foreign Minister for the next two years before serving his term as prime minister.

Negotiations were continuing right up to the 11th hour. Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamist Ra'am party, was negotiating last-minute deals before pledging his support for the unity government. "The decision was hard, and there were several disputes, but it was important to reach agreements," Abbas said before signing minutes before the deadline.

The right-wing New Hope Party was also a last-minute signer once their demands were met. They made a deal to split the attorney general role, legalize the usage of cannabis, and prevent Palestinians from building in a specific area of the West Bank (Biblical Judea and Samaria). They will also occupy several Cabinet-like positions in the new government.

Another sticking point was over the makeup of the influential Judicial Selection Committee. Israel is set to appoint six new Supreme Court Justices in the next four years. Bennett's number two—Ayelet Shaked—and Labor Party leader, Merav Michaeli, were set to rotate two-year terms on the committee, with Shaked going first. But at the last minute, Michaeli demanded to go first. An agreement was reached, though, where Shaked will go first, in exchange for those occupying various portfolios (Cabinet-like positions) shifting around during their four-year term, which would give Michaeli an opportunity for advancement. In the end, Michaeli indicated that the mutual desire to see Netanyahu ousted from power won the day.

After an all-night negotiation session over critical domestic policy issues Tuesday, Benny Gantz and the centrist/liberal Blue and White party signed on. Also, Gantz will remain the Minister of Defense in the new government.

The final hurdle may be holding the coalition together during the next twelve days—the maximum time allowed for Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin to call for a vote of confidence. It is anticipated that Netanyahu and his supporters will put maximum pressure on the fragile unity government to try to unravel the bloc before June 14.

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