Netanyahu out as Naftali Bennett becomes Israel’s new Prime Minister
Israeli lawmakers narrowly approved a new coalition government on Sunday, putting an end to Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic 12-year run as Prime Minister.
Taking his place is far-right politician Naftali Bennett, 49, of the small Yamina party, which is just one member of the unprecedented eight-party coalition that spans Israel’s ideological landscape.
Members of the Knesset voted in favour of Bennett’s government by a razor-thin majority of 60 to 59 in the 120-seat assembly. The confidence vote saw one abstention.
Celebrations erupted in Tel Aviv as people waved Israeli flags in Rabin Square and car drivers honked their horns.
Bennett, a former defence minister and one-time Netanyahu ally, was sworn into office within minutes of his victory. Israeli television showed him shaking Netanyahu’s hand after the vote.
After two years in the top post, Bennett is supposed to give way to centrist politician Yair Lapid, 57, under a rotating plan for the premiership.
Lapid leads the Yesh Atid (“There Is a Future”) party, which came in second to Netanyahu’s Likud in March’s election. It was the fourth to take place during two years of political deadlock, which Bennett and Lapid hope their alliance will put an end to.
Lapid had been the one to finalize the fragile coalition deal among the eight parties. It includes an Arab party, a historic first.
The parties cover the political spectrum and have little in common aside from the desire to topple Netanyahu, leaving many analysts to doubt the coalition’s chances for long-term survival.
Netanyahu, who was Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, is still the head of Likud and will now lead the opposition in parliament.
He spoke at the Knesset as the vote neared and vowed to work from the opposition to bring down Bennett’s government.
“I am with you to topple this bad, dangerous, left-wing government,” Netanyahu told members of his Likud party, adding that it could happen “sooner than you think.”
In recent weeks, Netanyahu has tried to win over conservatives and defeat the coalition by drawing attention to the fact that it includes smaller left-wing parties.
He has also called the new coalition the “fraud of the century.”
Ahead of the session, Lapid posted a picture of the eight party leaders on Twitter: “It’s time for a change.”
In a speech to lawmakers ahead of the confidence vote, Bennett touched on several policy issues, including his rejection of any revival of the Iran nuclear deal.
Iran’s nuclear programme is near a “crucial point,” the leader of the ultra-right Yamina (Rightwards) party said. He said Israel would not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons and reserved its “full capacity to act.”
Bennett warned the Islamist Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, that it would face an “iron wall” if it attacked targets in Israel again.
Hamas and the militant Palestinian organization Islamic Jihad said on Sunday that their fight against Israel would continue, no matter who was leading the government.
The expected new coalition is “weak and fragile and will not last long,” said Ahmed al-Mudallal, a senior Islamic Jihad member.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said: “Whatever form the Israeli government takes, it will not change our behaviour toward an occupying power that must be resisted.”
US President Joe Biden offered his congratulations to Bennett as he prepared to depart England where he had been attending the G7 summit.
“I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations,” Biden said in a statement.
“Israel has no better friend than the United States. The bond that unites our people is evidence of our shared values and decades of close cooperation and as we continue to strengthen our partnership, the United States remains unwavering in its support for Israel’s security,” he said.
Later that evening, the two politicians also spoke to each other on the phone.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed similar sentiments, while Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and the Pentagon said: “The US commitment to Israel’s security remains ironclad.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also congratulated Bennett.
Germany will continue to do its utmost for Israel’s security and for peace in the Middle East, she wrote to him on Sunday evening, according to a spokesperson for the German government in Berlin.
“Germany and Israel are linked by a unique friendship, which we want to deepen further. In this spirit, I look forward to working closely with you,” it continued.
Merkel wished Bennett and the citizens of Israel “strength, cohesion and success in tackling the tasks ahead.”