Netanyahu’s coalition gives green light to Israel unity government talks

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Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party said members of his governing coalition had authorised him to negotiate a unity government with the opposition in the wake of the worst attack within Israel in the country’s history.

Likud, which rules in conjunction with four ultrareligious and far-right parties, said in a brief statement on Tuesday that “all heads of the coalition, without exception” had backed the move.

Saturday’s mass incursion into Israel by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which killed at least 900 Israelis and sparked war with the militant groups, has taken some of the heat out of Israel’s bitterly polarised political discourse. Netanyahu has this year faced the biggest wave of protests in the country’s history over his controversial programme of judicial reforms, which opponents regard as a mortal threat to Israeli democracy. 

But since the weekend attack from the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu has been holding talks with Benny Gantz, a former general who heads the centre right National Unity party, over establishing a unity government. 

Gantz said on Sunday that his party would be open to forming a war cabinet. “Our current reality demands we realise that we face a strategic event of critical importance to the State of Israel,” Gantz said. “This is not an operation, this is a war.” 

Israel has had a number of national unity governments, including that of prime minister Levi Eshkol in 1967 that was formed on the eve of the Six Day War. Netanyahu and Gantz sat together in a rotation government in 2020-21, but it collapsed in acrimonious circumstances.

Yair Lapid, the opposition leader who heads Israel’s centrist Yesh Atid party, said after the Hamas attack that he was ready to join an “emergency government”.

But he also said it would be impossible to manage a war with the current “extreme and dysfunctional cabinet” in place. This was interpreted as a demand that Netanyahu must eject the far-right parties of his key cabinet members Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir in order for Lapid to join.  

One analyst said the creation of a unity government would mean that opposition politicians “won’t be in a position to criticise” during what Israelis expect will be a long war against Palestinian militants in Gaza.

“This is important to focus on one mission, which is winning,” said Aviv Bushinsky, a political analyst and former chief of staff to Netanyahu. “It’s a tough task, and we are going to lose many soldiers.”

Bushinsky added that Israel faced an “unprecedented” challenge in the form of the scores of hostages, including civilians, taken during the incursion and now being held inside Gaza, and that international support being voiced for Israel might wane during a protracted war. 

“No doubt Israel enjoys huge support from the world,” he said. “But no doubt we will face rainy days.”

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