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Netanyahu holds a cabinet meeting this week. Photo: Amit Shabi/POOL/AFP via Getty

Efforts to form a new Israeli government and oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have come to an almost complete halt amid the escalation with Hamas.

Why it matters: Opposition leader Yair Lapid is six days into a 28-day mandate, and seemed on track to strike a coalition deal with Naftali Bennett, a right-wing kingmaker. But the latest crisis could make those efforts nearly impossible.

  • That’s because a Lapid-Bennett government would be just short of a majority in the Knesset unless they can get the support of at least one Arab party. The Arab Joint List supported Lapid in getting the mandate but was expected to abstain from a vote on the new government.
  • Lapid and Bennett were thus banking on the support of Mansour Abbas' Ra'am party — an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and sister movement of Hamas that broke from the Joint List.
  • Abbas was negotiating with both Lapid and Bennett about forming a government, and with Netanyahu about preventing them from doing so. Netanyahu received the presidential mandate to form a government first, but failed.

Driving the news: As the situation in Jerusalem and Gaza escalated on Monday, Abbas announced that he was suspending the coalition talks.

  • Abbas faced harsh criticism in his party and in the broader Arab community in Israel for his willingness to join any Israeli government.
  • The riots inside Israel also increased the criticism among Jews about the plans to form a government that would be dependent on an Islamist party.

What they're saying: Lapid issued a statement on Wednesday stressing that the escalation is further proof of the need to replace Netanyahu as soon as possible.

  • He said he would not allow Hamas to harm the democratic process in Israel and stressed the efforts to form a unity government would continue.
  • Bennett also issued a statement on Wednesday stressing that Netanyahu’s Likud party had failed in running the country and was incompetently leading Israel into a disaster.

What’s next: If the situation de-escalates quickly, Lapid, Bennett and Abbas could try to revive their talks.

  • But if it continues into next week and beyond, it could make those talks impossible and lead Israel closer to a fifth election since 2019.

Go deeper

Aug 18, 2021 - World

Israeli PM Bennett to visit Biden in midst of Afghanistan crisis

Biden delivers remarks on Afghanistan. Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's first visit to the White House will come with President Biden attempting to manage the worst foreign policy crisis of his presidency.

Why it matters: Bennett will visit next Thursday, the White House confirmed, which will likely make him the first world leader to meet Biden during his "Saigon moment."

Aug 18, 2021 - World

Scoop: CIA director raised China concerns with Israeli prime minister

The U.S. has raised concerns about Chinese investment in the Port of Haifa project. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty

While visiting Israel last week, CIA director Bill Burns told Prime Minister Naftali Bennett the U.S. was concerned about Chinese investments in Israel, particularly in the tech sector, and involvement in major infrastructure projects, Israeli officials tell Axios.

Why it matters: That's the highest level at which the Biden administration has raised an issue that previously became a rare point of contention between the Trump and Netanyahu governments.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Investors pour millions into immersive, interactive art experiences

Photo Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP via Getty Images

How much would you pay for "a sleek, if pleasantly confusing, package of moods" or "a confusing tangle of disjointed installations" or even "the total erosion of meaning itself"? The answer, according to the current market-clearing price, seems to be about $35.

Why it matters: Investors are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into ticketed experiences — immersive, interactive museum-like spaces that don't have the d0-not-touch stuffiness of traditional museums.