Netanyahu Legal Challenge to Rival’s PM Bid Is Spurned

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Knesset, on Sunday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s party on Tuesday challenged the legality of a bid by a rival rightist to head a new government, but the last-gasp attempt at extending his leadership was rejected by President Reuven Rivlin.

Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu’s former defense minister, announced on Sunday he would join a proposed alliance with centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid, serving as its premier first under a rotation deal.

In a letter to the legal counsels of the presidency and parliament, Netanyahu’s conservative Likud said Lapid was not authorized to cede the premiership to Bennett. But Rivlin’s office said in response that there was no legal merit to Likud’s claim because Lapid would be sworn in as “alternate prime minister,” second to serve as premier as part of the rotation.

The Lapid-Bennett power-share may include other rightist politicians as well as liberal and center-left parties. Israeli media have speculated it could also court parliamentary backing from a party that draws votes from Israel’s Arab minority. That has prompted Netanyahu to accuse Bennett of imperiling Israel as it contends with internal Jewish-Arab strife over last month’s Gaza conflict, the moribund peace process with the Palestinians, and Iran.

Lapid said on Monday that both he and Bennett had been given extra security following threats to their safety. Both have said they want to bring together Israelis from across the political divide and end hateful political discourse.

“A country that is divided and violent won’t be able to deal with Iran or with the economy. A leadership that incites us against one another harms our ability to deal with the challenges we face,” Lapid said.