Benjamin Netanyahu's Rule in Israel Over as Opposition Reaches Agreement to Form Government

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's opposition announced they have reached an agreement just before the midnight deadline to form a coalition government that will end his 12-year rule.

Yair Lapid and his main coalition partner, Naftali Bennett, had agreed earlier today to share the premiership, but had until midnight in Israel to form a coalition government. Had they not reached the agreement, the country likely would have held its fifth election in just over two years.

Under the agreement, Lapid and Bennett will alternate the position of Prime Minister. Bennett will serve the first two years, and Lapid will serve the last two years.

On Twitter, Lapid made a statement that he had informed Reuven Rivlin, Israel's president, of the deal. The Knesset, Israel's parliament, still needs to approve the agreement, in a vote that is expected early next week.

"This government will work for all the citizens of Israel, those that voted for it and those that didn't. It will do everything to unite Israeli society," Lapid said.

Lapid's deal has a variety of partners, including the United Arab List. The small Islamist party will be the first Arab party ever to be part of a governing coalition if the deal is approved. Mansour Abbas, leader of the United Arab List, said earlier it was a "difficult decision" to join Lapid's coalition.

"This agreement has a lot of things for the benefit of Arab society, and Israeli society in general," Abbas told reporters.

Netanyahu is expected to do anything within his power as prime minister to keep the coalition from ending his 12-year rule.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Israeli coalition
(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on June 2, 2021 shows (Top L to R) Israel's opposition leader Yair Lapid, Israeli former Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, Israeli former Interior Minister Gidon Saar, Israeli ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, (bottom L to R) Israeli politician Nitzan Horowitz, Israeli alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, head of Israel's conservative Islamic Raam party Mansour Abbas, and leader of the Israeli Labour Party (HaAvoda) Merav Michaeli. - Israel's opposition chief Yair Lapid informed the country's president he has managed to muster enough support across a broad political spectrum to achieve a government of "change", which could signal the end of Benjamin Netanyahu's leadership and two years of political crisis. EMMANUEL DUNAND, THOMAS COEX, JACK GUEZ, MENAHEM KAHANA, AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images

Netanyahu has attempted to put pressure on hard-liners in the emerging coalition to defect and join his religious and nationalist allies. Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a member of Netanyahu's Likud party, may also use his influence to delay the required parliamentary vote.

Lapid called on Levin to convene the Knesset for the vote as soon as possible.

Netanyahu has been the most dominant player in Israeli politics over the past three decades — serving as prime minister since 2009 in addition to an earlier term in the late 1990s.

Despite a long list of achievements, including last year's groundbreaking diplomatic agreements with four Arab countries, he has become a polarizing figure since he was indicted on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in 2019.

Each of the past four elections was seen as a referendum on Netanyahu's fitness to rule. And each ended in deadlock, with both Netanyahu's supporters as well as his secular, Arab and dovish opponents falling short of a majority. A unity government formed with his main rival last year collapsed after just six months.

The new deal required a reshuffling of the Israeli political constellation. Three of the parties are led by hard-line former Netanyahu allies who had personal feuds with him, while the United Arab List made history as a kingmaker, using its leverage to seek benefits for the country's Arab minority.

Lapid, 57, entered parliament in 2013 after a successful career as a newspaper columnist, TV anchor and author. His new Yesh Atid party ran a successful rookie campaign, landing Lapid the powerful post of finance minister.

But he and Netanyahu did not get along, and the coalition quickly crumbled. Yesh Atid has been in the opposition since 2015 elections. The party is popular with secular, middle-class voters and has been critical of Netanyahu's close ties with ultra-Orthodox parties and said the prime minister should step down while on trial for corruption charges.

Bennett, meanwhile, is a former top aide to Netanyahu whose small Yamina party caters to religious and nationalist hard-liners. Bennett was a successful high-tech entrepreneur and leader of the West Bank settler movement before entering politics.

It is far from certain that their coalition will last that long. In order to secure the required parliamentary majority, Lapid had to bring together eight parties that have little in common.

Their partners range from a pair of dovish, left-wing parties that support broad concessions to the Palestinians to three hard-line parties that oppose Palestinian independence and support West Bank settlements. Lapid's Yesh Atid and Blue and White, a centrist party headed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and the United Arab List are the remaining members.

The coalition members are hoping their shared animosity to Netanyahu, coupled with the agreement that another election must be avoided, will provide enough incentive to find some common ground.

"Today, we succeeded. We made history," said Merav Michaeli, leader of the dovish Labor Party.

The negotiations went down to the wire, with Labor and Yamina feuding over the makeup of a parliamentary committee.

Earlier this week, when Bennett said he would join the coalition talks, he said that everyone would have to compromise and give up parts of their dreams. During the recent election campaign, Bennett had publicly vowed never to share power with Lapid or an Arab party. But facing the prospect of another unwanted election, Bennett, like the others, found flexibility.

In order to form a government, a party leader must secure the support of a 61-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament. Because no single party controls a majority on its own, coalitions are usually built with smaller partners. Thirteen parties of various sizes are in the current parliament.

As leader of the largest party, Netanyahu was given the first opportunity by the country's figurehead president to form a coalition. But he was unable to secure a majority with his traditional religious and nationalist allies.

Netanyahu, who in the past has incited against Israel's Arab minority, even attempted to court the United Arab List but was thwarted by a small ultranationalist party.

After Wednesday's coalition deal was announced, that party, the Religious Zionists, angrily accused Bennett of betraying Israel's right wing.

"We won't forget and we won't forgive," said Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionists.

After Netanyahu's failure to form a government, Lapid was then given four weeks to cobble together a coalition. That window was set to expire at midnight.

Lapid already faced a difficult challenge bringing together such a disparate group of partners. But then war broke out with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip on May 10. The fighting, along with the eruption of Arab-Jewish mob violence in Israeli cities during the war, put the coalition talks on hold.

But after a cease-fire was reached on May 21, the negotiations resumed, and Lapid raced to sew up a deal. He reached a breakthrough on Sunday when Bennett, a former ally of Netanyahu, agreed to join the opposition coalition.

Lapid news conference
FILE - In this May 6, 2021, file photo, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid listens during a news conference in Tel Aviv, Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's opponents on Wednesday, June 2, were racing to finalize a coalition government to end his 12-year rule — the longest by any Israeli premier — ahead of a midnight deadline. Centrist Lapid and ultranationalist Naftali Bennett have joined forces and agreed to rotate the premiership between them, with Bennett going first, but were still working to cobble together a ruling coalition that would include parties from across the political spectrum. Oded Balilty, File/AP Photo