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Netanyahu Opponents Reach A Deal To Form Coalition Government

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In Israel's history over the past quarter-century, no figure has loomed larger than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He led the country for a while in the 1990s and then later returned and has held the job this time for 12 years, dealing with multiple U.S. presidents and overseeing multiple wars. Netanyahu endured through election after election, but after the most recent one, he was unable to form a governing coalition in Israel's Parliament. And shortly before midnight last night, Israeli opposition parties said they have formed a government with the power to unseat him. NPR's Jackie Northam is covering this story from Jerusalem. Hi there, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note this isn't done because the Knesset must vote to confirm the coalition. And isn't it a rather unwieldy group here?

NORTHAM: Oh, well, it certainly is. And in fact, that was part of the problem with actually getting this agreement formed. It came right down to the wire. There was a lot of haggling over the past couple of days about how this new coalition government was going to work, who is going to get what ministry and the like. And the challenge is that the coalition is widely diverse. You have ultra right-wing political groups. There's a centrist one. There's even an Islamist Muslim party. So it really takes in the full political spectrum here in Israel with some stark ideological differences. The key thing that they have in common, though, Steve, is they want to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office. They've managed to cobble together enough votes to get a slim majority in Parliament. And if this coalition of eight parties can hold together, it would first be led by Naftali Bennett for a couple of years. And he's seen as more right wing as Netanyahu. And then after that, a centrist politician, Yair Lapid, will be prime minister for a couple of years. But, Steve, that's a long way into the future, especially for Israeli politics.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Let's talk about the next few days even. Is Netanyahu accepting defeat?

NORTHAM: No, it doesn't seem that way. He waded into this whole debate. He tweeted this morning that all right-wing members of Parliament must oppose what he called this dangerous left-wing government. So that doesn't sound like he's conceding at all. Members of this new coalition have been all over the airwaves this morning making their case, which is a really tough sell for some of them, particularly Bennett, who was an ally of Netanyahu's. You know, he's had protesters outside his house for several days now. So people in Israel are split about this. And my colleague, Kat Lonsdorf, spoke with some folks at a market here in Jerusalem this morning. One of them, Raphael Micheli (ph), says he's looking forward to a new coalition government.

RAPHAEL MICHELI: Yeah, I think it's a great change, and I'm really happy about it. I hope they will make it. It looks like it's going to be really hard, but I'm holding my fingers crossed.

NORTHAM: But David Izraki (ph) says he thinks things were just fine under Netanyahu.

DAVID IZRAKI: Look, when something is good, I don't like to change. It was good. I would like him to stay, but it didn't work. So what are you going to do? We have to say bye-bye (laughter).

NORTHAM: So as you can hear, Steve, creating a coalition government to unseat Netanyahu is a divisive issue here in Israel.

INSKEEP: What made such a diverse cast of people turn against Netanyahu?

NORTHAM: Well, you know, 12 years in power, that's a lot of time to make political enemies, you know. And there were also four elections in the past, just over two years, and they all ended in deadlock. So, you know, things like the economy aren't being addressed at all. And it feels like the country is floundering. Netanyahu faces corruption charges. His trial is under way. And just so many Israelis are tired of him and they want a change and that even, you know, despite this latest conflict with Gaza, which should have given him a boost in popularity because he's known as Mr. Security, but it did not. So it's just - many people feel it's just time to go.

INSKEEP: Jackie, thanks.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jackie Northam in Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.