An unlikely mix of Israeli politicians from far-right nationalists to Arab lawmakers are in discussions to form a coalition government that could end Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year hold on power.
A telegenic former TV news anchor popular with secular middle-class Israelis, Yair Lapid is the recently installed head of the opposition. He is tasked with forging a governing coalition before a Wednesday deadline.
Lapid’s Yesh Atid party has promised to lower the cost of living and reduce the power of religious authorities, for example by bringing in civil marriage.
The 57-year-old has described himself as a centrist and somebody who supports a two-state solution. However, Lapid also said he was a “security hawk” and that there were some issues he would not compromise on in any future negotiations with the Palestinians, such as control over Jerusalem, a critical issue in the crisis.
“The Palestinians want to destroy us more than they want to build a nation,” he said in a recent interview with the Times of Israel. “And as long as this is the situation, there will be no two states.”
A far-right former settler leader, Naftali Bennett was once a senior aide and adviser to Netanyahu and ran the education and defence ministries in his governments.
Bennett, who wants to annex most of the occupied West Bank, remains ideologically close to Netanyahu and was once a member of his ruling Likud party. However, the 49-year-old has fallen foul of his old boss and has since agreed to join Lapid.
Under the deal, Bennett could become prime minister for the first two years of a term, with Lapid replacing him for the final two. Lapid likely needs Bennett’s seven seats in parliament to form a government, giving Bennett the status of kingmaker.
A stalwart of Israel’s religious right, Bennett is a former leader of Yesha, the main Jewish settler movement in the West Bank. He has made settlement expansion, the annexation of Palestinian land and the rejection of a Palestinian state a feature of his political platform.
“I would not give another centimetre to the Arabs,” he said in 2018. “We have to drop the idea that if we give them more territory the world will love us.”
The son of immigrants from San Francisco, Bennett became a hi-tech millionaire after selling an anti-fraud software company to a US security firm. On some issues, the former commando is less conservative than his colleague on the hard right, including gay rights and the relationship between religion and state.
Soviet-born Avigdor Lieberman heads the Yisrael Beiteinu party, which is popular with Russian and eastern European immigrants in Israel.
A far-right nationalist, Lieberman once suggested that “disloyal” members of the country’s Arab minority, who make up about 20% of its population of 9 million, should be beheaded.
Lieberman quit his role as defence minister in Netanyahu’s government in 2018 after the prime minister made a truce with militants in Gaza, which Lieberman called “a capitulation to terror”.
One year later, the staunch secularist refused to join a Netanyahu government after disagreements with ultra-Orthodox Jewish politicians in the coalition, which led to the political impasse that has led to repeated elections.
To form a 61-seat majority in parliament, the opposition will probably need support from a small party of Islamists, called the United Arab List, and known by the Hebrew name Ra’am.
Benny Gantz, a former Israeli army chief, ran three election campaigns as head of the opposition on the promise to topple Netanyahu. However, his Blue and White party, named after the colours of the Israeli flag, lost significant support last year when Gantz agreed to a power-sharing deal with Netanyahu that ultimately collapsed.