For first time in a long time, Netanyahu's rule threatened

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Associated Press

In this Sunday, March. 14, 2021 file photo, people stand in front of an election campaign billboard for the Likud party showing a portrait of its leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and opposition party leader Yair Lapid, in Ramat Gan, Israel. Israel's President Reuven Rivlin has tapped opposition leader Yair Lapid to form a new government, a step that could lead to the end of the lengthy rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Rivlin announced his decision on live television a day after Netanyahu failed to cobble together a governing coalition by a midnight deadline. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)

JERUSALEM – For the past 12 years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dominated Israeli politics, vanquishing a stream of challengers as he maintained his tight grip on power.

But after a bruising two-year cycle of political deadlock, Netanyahu is facing the toughest challenge of his record-setting rule and could soon find himself pushed into the opposition.

Israel’s president said on Wednesday that he has given opposition leader Yair Lapid the task of trying to form a new coalition government. President Reuven Rivlin made the announcement after Netanyahu failed to meet a midnight deadline for forming a government himself the previous day.

Lapid, who was once Netanyahu's governing partner but has morphed into a formidable nemesis, now has 28 days to cobble together a majority coalition in parliament with a range of parties that have little in common.

While he faces a difficult task — and Netanyahu is expected to do everything possible to undermine him — Lapid expressed optimism he could make history and end the rule of Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. Netanyahu has held the post for a total of 15 years, though his standing has been weakened in recent years after being charged in a series of corruption scandals.

Lapid, 57, vowed to form a broad, unity government as soon as possible to end the years of deadlock and heal a divided nation.

“We need a government that will reflect the fact that we don’t hate one another,” he said. “A government in which left, right and center will work together to tackle the economic and security challenges we face. A government that will show that our differences are a source of strength, not weakness.”

Lapid, whose late father was a Cabinet minister, entered parliament in 2013 after a successful career as a newspaper columnist, TV anchor and author. His new Yesh Atid party ran a successful rookie campaign, landing Lapid the powerful post of finance minister.