UPDATED: Israel’s opposition declares new government, set to unseat Netanyahu

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Israel’s opposition leader moved closer to unseating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announcing an agreement with a coalition of diverse political allies to form a new government.

But the fragile alliance, which would command a thin majority in parliament, was expected to be sworn in only in about 10-12 days, leaving slight room for Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, to try to turn lawmakers against it.

About 35 minutes before a Wednesday midnight deadline, centrist politician Yair Lapid told President Reuven Rivlin in an email: “I am honoured to inform you that I have succeeded in forming a government.”

Under the coalition pact, nationalist Naftali Bennett, 49, a former defence minister and a high-tech millionaire, would become prime minister and hand over the post to Lapid, 57, a former TV host and finance minister, in about two years.

Israelis protest to support of formation of a government between Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, in Tel Aviv, Israel. EPA-EFE/ABIR SULTAN

The agreement capped a March 23 election in which neither Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and its allies nor their opponents won a majority in the legislature. It was Israel’s fourth national ballot in two years.

The coalition comprises a patchwork of small and medium parties from across the political spectrum, including for the first time in Israel’s history one that represents its 21% Arab minority – the United Arab List.

They have little in common other than a desire to oust Netanyahu, whose 12-year run as prime minister has now been clouded by a trial on corruption charges that he denies.

The lineup includes Bennett’s Yamina (Rightward), centre-left Blue and White, headed by Defence Minister Benny Gantz, the left-wing Meretz and Labour parties, former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party and New Hope, a right-wing party headed by former education minister Gideon Saar, who broke away from Likud.

Photo: Chairman of the Yesh Atid Party, Yair Lapid, delivers a statement to the press in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, in Jerusalem. EPA-EFE/DEBBIE HILL / POOL