Hindustan Times (Lucknow)

Israel politics set for new dawn

Country picks a new president before Netanyahu’s rivals come up with a stable coalition to form govt

- Agencies letters@hindustant­imes.com

JERUSALEM: Israeli politician­s scrambling to unseat veteran Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were locked in last-ditch talks on Wednesday to hammer out their coalition composed of bitter ideologica­l rivals.

As a midnight deadline approached, negotiatio­ns hit an impasse, with one source telling AFP that the multi-party talks in a hotel near Tel Aviv were “stuck” and questionin­g whether a viable alliance would be agreed in time.

Netanyahu’s opponents had until the end of the day to cobble together an administra­tion that would end 12 straight years of rule by the political heavyweigh­t, Israel’s longest-ruling PM.

The high-stakes push for a new government is led by former

TV presenter Yair Lapid, who three days earlier won the crucial support of hardline nationalis­t Naftali Bennett.

Lapid has reportedly agreed to allow Bennett, a 49-year-old tech millionair­e, to serve first as prime minister before swapping with him after two years, halfway through their term.

To reach a majority in the 120seat Knesset, the unlikely alliance needed to include several other left and right-wing parties - and needed the support of Arab-Israeli politician­s. That would result in a government riven by deep difference­s on flashpoint issues, such as Jewish settlement­s in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

In the event of no agreement, Israel risked heading back to the polls for a fifth general election in just over two years.

With negotiatio­ns down to the wire, a bone of contention was the compositio­n of Israel’s committee to appoint judges, while another hurdle was reaching a deal with Islamic conservati­ve lawmakers. Lapid is counting on backing from parties representi­ng Arab Israelis, the country’s 20% minority of Palestinia­n descent. Earlier on Wednesday, Israel’s parliament elected former politician Isaac Herzog as the country’s president, a role that is largely ceremonial but meant to promote unity among ethnic and religious groups.

Herzog beat rival candidate Miriam Peretz, an educator and mother of two Israeli infantry officers killed in battle, by a vote of 87 lawmakers to 26.

He will assume the presidency next month, replacing Reuven Rivlin, who is ending his sevenyear term.

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