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Sharp Differences Pushed Coalition Talks to the Brink

Sharp Differences Pushed Coalition Talks to the Brink
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Yair Lapid, the leader of the Israeli opposition, had until midnight on Wednesday to cobble together an unlikely coalition to topple Benjamin Netanyahu. He needed almost every minute — leaving it until 11:22 p.m. to inform Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s largely ceremonial president, that he had assembled an eight-party alliance.

“The government will do everything it can to unite every part of Israeli society,” Mr. Lapid said in a statement released shortly after his call with Mr. Rivlin.

Mr. Lapid’s celebrations will be put on hold for several days, however. The Speaker of the Israeli Parliament, Yariv Levin, is a member of Mr. Netanyahu’s party, Likud, and can use parliamentary procedure to delay the confidence vote until Monday, June 14, constitutional experts said.

In the meantime, Mr. Netanyahu’s party has promised to pile pressure on wavering members of Mr. Lapid’s fragile coalition, formed of hard-right parties, leftists, centrists and Arab Islamists, in a bid to persuade them to abandon the coalition. Many of them already feel uncomfortable about working with each other, and have made difficult compromises to join forces in order to push Mr. Netanyahu from office.

Mr. Lapid himself agreed to give Naftali Bennett, a hard-right former settler leader who opposes Palestinian statehood, the chance to lead the government until 2023, at which point Mr. Lapid will take over.

In a sign of the friction to come, Raam, the Arab Islamist party, announced that it had joined the coalition after receiving assurances about improvements to the Arab minority’s land and housing rights that many hard-right Israelis deem unacceptable, including the regularization of three illegally constructed Arab towns in the Negev desert.

An hour before the deal was announced, one hard-right lawmaker, Nir Orbach, whose party colleagues say he has been particularly unsure about joining the coalition, tweeted: “We are not abandoning the Negev. Period.”

The fact that these tensions were on full display even before the coalition was officially formed has left many Israelis wondering whether it will last more than a few months, let alone its full term.

Should the coalition collapse, analysts believe Mr. Lapid may emerge with more credit than Mr. Bennett. While Mr. Bennett gets first crack at the premiership, his decision to work with centrists and leftists has angered his already small following.

“Lapid has made a very strong set of decisions, conveyed an amazing level of maturity and really made a big statement about a different kind of leadership,” said Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israeli political analyst and pollster at the Century Foundation, a New York-based research group. “That will not be lost on the Israeli public.”



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