Benjamin Netanyahu’s rivals vow to form new government within a week

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Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, delivers a statement to the press before the party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament - Reuters/Debbie Hill/Reuters/Debbie Hill

Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, delivers a statement to the press before the party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament – Reuters/Debbie Hill/Reuters/Debbie Hill

Benjamin Netanyahu’s rivals branded him “dangerous and unhinged” as opposition leader Yair Lapid vowed to remove the Israeli prime minister from power and swear in a new government within a week.

In a speech on Monday, Mr Lapid, the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, confirmed that an agreement had nearly been reached on forming a cross-party coalition to replace Mr Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

“We can end this next week. In a week, the state of Israel can be in a new era with a new prime minister,” Mr Lapid said.

It came after Naftali Bennett, a prominent right-winger, threw his support behind plans for the anti-Netanyahu coalition, in which he would initially serve as prime minister before rotating with Mr Lapid.

If the coalition is sworn in, it could spell the end of the Netanyahu dynasty, which has dominated Israeli politics for more than a decade.

It would also be an extraordinary rise to power for Mr Bennett, who despite winning just seven seats in elections last March now stands to become the next prime minister of Israel.

Mr Bennett, a 49-year-old former special forces commando, is an erstwhile protégé of Mr Netanyahu but claims to be “more right-wing” than he is, and has warned that a “unity” government is the only means to avoid a fifth election.

Read more: Naftali Bennett, the tough-talking right-winger poised to oust Benjamin Netanyahu

However, the coalition process faces significant hurdles, in particular a brewing row over which party will be given the agriculture portfolio.

Benny Gantz, the head of the Blue and White faction, sought to play down reports of an imminent new government on Monday as he warned that “ gaps and disagreements” remain in the talks.

Mr Gantz is said to be withholding his support unless his party takes control of the agriculture ministry, prompting one right-wing leader to accuse him of trying to sabotage the coalition.

“I wonder if his holy war for the agriculture portfolio is an excuse to dismantle the change bloc,” said Avigdor Liberman, the head of Yisrael Beiteinu, who is also competing for control of the agriculture ministry.

Mr Liberman, a former Netanyahu ally, described the embattled prime minister as “mentally unstable,” citing a speech on Sunday where he compared attempts to oust him with the dictatorship in Syria.

Mr Netanyahu had also accused Mr Bennett in the speech of committing the “fraud of the century” by trying to prop up a “left-wing government.”

Mr Lapid also suggested that Mr Netanyahu was losing his grip on reality, branding his combative speech against the coalition as “dangerous and unhinged.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing his biggest crisis yet - REX/REXIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing his biggest crisis yet - REX/REX

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing his biggest crisis yet – REX/REX

“If you want to know why we have to change the leadership in Israel, go and listen to Netanyahu’s speech,” Mr Lapid said. “It was a dangerous and unhinged speech by someone who has no limits anymore. His weakness weakens us all.”

Mr Lapid went on to admit that the coalition still faced “obstacles,” which would need to be resolved by Wednesday night, when his mandate to form a government will expire.

“There are still plenty of obstacles in the way of the formation of the new government. Maybe that’s a good thing because we’ll have to overcome them together,” he said.

If the anti-Netanyahu coalition falls at the last hurdle then Israel would be forced to call its fifth election in just two and a half years.

In parallel with the political crisis, Mr Netanyahu is standing trial on corruption charges which he strongly denies, and claims the trial is a politically motivated “witch-hunt.”

But his opponents say the allegations of bribery and fraud are so severe that he is no longer fit to stand as prime minister.

“In a week the state of Israel can be in a new era,” said Mr Lapid. “Suddenly it will be quieter, ministers will go to work without inciting, without lying, without trying to instil fear all the time.”