Explainer-Israel is set for a change of government. Who? When? Why?

·3-min read

By Stephen Farrell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, is on the verge of being toppled from power after more than a decade in office.

The 71-year-old right-winger looks set to be ousted by an unlikely coalition of right-wing, centrist and other parties who clinched a deal to form a government that would break a period of unprecedented political deadlock that saw four elections in two years.

WHO ARE THE NEW GUARD?

NAFTALI BENNETT, 49, heads the ultra-nationalist party Yamina - "Rightwards". The religious, pro-settler, party won only seven of the Knesset's 120 seats in the March 23 election but he emerged first as kingmaker, then kingslayer and now king.

A high-tech millionaire who dreams of annexing most of the occupied West Bank, Bennett spent some of his childhood in North America. He may face cries of betrayal for forming a government with centre-left partners instead of his natural allies on the right.

YAIR LAPID, 57, and his centre-left party Yesh Atid - "There is a Future" - came second, with 17 seats.

The former finance minister and TV host campaigned to "bring sanity" back to Israel, a dig at Netanyahu. But the coalition with Bennett will likely be unstable, uniting unlikely allies from across the political spectrum.

GIDEON SAAR, 54, a former member of Netanyahu's Likud who quit to set up the New Hope party. He rejected Netanyahu's offer of a rotating premiership to keep him in power.

IS THIS THE END OF THE NETANYAHU ERA?

Not yet. The new government is not expected to be sworn in within the next 10 days, during which time Netanyahu remains prime minister at the head of a caretaker government. He will likely use this time to persuade rivals to defect.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR HIM?

His supporters love the man they call "King Bibi" - admiring his hawkish stance on issues such as Iran and the Palestinians, and his high profile on the international stage.

But critics accuse him of being a polarising figure. They also highlight corruption allegations that led to the tag "Crime Minister" - Netanyahu is on trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies wrongdoing.

A canny political operator, many expected him to glue together a coalition. But his deal-making touch deserted him, with many rivals wanting to emerge from his shadow.

DIDN'T HE GET CREDIT FOR ISRAEL'S VACCINE RECORD?

Netanyahu fought the most recent election by asserting that he turned Israel into the "vaccination nation", leading the world in the recovery from COVID-19.

Even as the ballots were being counted, Israel passed the mark at which 50% of the population received two vaccine shots.

But such is the polarisation in Israeli politics that even

this could not break the stalemate. Netanyahu was also accused of mismanaging earlier pandemic lockdowns that hit Israel's economy hard.

WILL HE BE BACK?

Yes. A quarter of the electorate voted for his Likud Party, which remains the largest party with 30 of 120 Knesset seats.

And he will be the natural leader of the opposition. This is familiar territory - in the mid-1990s he made life very uncomfortable for then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Grant McCool)