Leaders of Israel's two main opposition parties said they would work together to form a coalition government on Sunday, a move that could see Benjamin Netanyahu undefeated as prime minister for the first time in 12 years.
Naftali Bennett, head of the small religious and nationalist Yamina Party, and opposition leader of the moderate Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid, said they had joined the army.
"In the last two years, Israel has been under siege for elections, internal battles without any leadership," Bennett said in a televised announcement on Sunday. "It will not happen again. We can stop and control it. There is no substitute for the Netanyahu-led right-wing government - it is either a change government or a new election."
"No one believes Netanyahu anymore," Bennett said. "At this critical moment, I am saying that I intend to form a national unity government with Lapid."
Israeli politicians Yair Lapid, left, and Naphtali Bennett spoke at a reception in Jerusalem on February 5, 2013, at the inauguration of the 19th Neset. Uriel Sinai / Getty Images File
Yesh Atid said on Friday that it had also entered into agreements with the leftist Meretz Party of Israel; New Hope Party, a staunch nationalist faction made up mostly of Netanyahu's former allies; And the Social-Democratic Labor Party, which ruled the country for decades after the founding of the country in 1948.
According to a statement by Yash Atid, teams from both sides are ready to meet again in the evening and resume talks to form a unity government.
Netanyahu appeared on television on Sunday after the announcement, claiming that Bennett should not be taken seriously because he only wants to be prime minister and is "zig-zagging".
"What will Iran say when they see this leftist government? Will they fight Hamas?" Netanyahu said. "It is a hoax. It is not a national unity government, it is an anti-Jewish government. It is a thief government and we should not let this happen."
A 120-seat cassette or at least 61 seats in parliament are required to form a majority. The 28-day mandate for Lapid to form the new government ends on Wednesday.
Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday that he had signed a far-reaching resolution "to prevent the establishment of a dangerous leftist government" for Bennett and New Hope Party leader Gideon Saar. This would allow both to serve as prime ministers, he said.
Former defense minister Bennett did not comment on his announcement.
The new coalition comes just days after a ceasefire that ended an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, killing dozens of people.
Violence erupted after elections in March amid a lack of power in Israel - the fourth in two years - with no clear winner.
North Korea attacked after the US allowed South Korea to build more powerful missiles.
Despite repeated visits with his rivals and unprecedented access to the leader of a small Islamic Arab party, Netanyahu failed to meet the deadline to form a new governing coalition earlier this month.
The 71-year-old Netanyahu has been at the helm since 2009, but his legal troubles in recent years have affected his legacy. Last month, a major corruption trial started against him on charges of fraud, bribery and betrayal. She has denied all wrongdoing and said that she is a "witch hunt" victim.
Netanyahu will likely remain at the helm of his Likud party as the opposition leader.
Over the years, he has become a divisive figure in Israeli politics, tearing apart a long list of former allies during his long tenure. In the last election, three parties were led by former top aides who fell in with them.
The new government is expected to be sworn in as early as June 8, Israel's Channel 12 reported ahead of the announcement.
It said that Bennett would serve as Prime Minister for the first two-year and three-month rotational government. Then, Lapid will take over for the last two years and three months in September 2023.
Paul Goldman reported from Tel Aviv and Yulia Talmazan reported from London.