JERUSALEM: Israel’s parliament narrowly approved a new coalition government on Sunday, ending the 12-year rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and sending the polarising leader into the opposition.
Naftali Bennett, a former ally of Netanyahu turned rival, became prime minister after a 60-59 vote in Knesset. Promising to try to heal a divided nation, Bennett will preside over a diverse and fragile coalition comprising eight parties with deep ideological differences.
But the 71-year-old Netanyahu made clear he had no intention of exiting the political stage. “If it is destined for us to be in the opposition, we will do it with our backs straight until we topple this dangerous government and return to lead the country,” he said.
The driving force behind the coalition is Yair Lapid, a political centrist who will become prime minister in two years in a rotation agreement with Bennett, if the government lasts that long.
Naftali Bennett, a former Netanyahu ally, will be PM for two years under a rotation agreement with Yair Lapid
Lapid called off a planned speech, saying he was ashamed that his 86-year-old mother had to witness the raucous behaviour of his opponents.
“I wanted her to be proud of the democratic process in Israel. Instead she, along with every citizen of Israel, is ashamed of you and remembers clearly why it’s time to replace you,” he said.
The vote, capping a stormy parliamentary session, ended a two-year cycle of political paralysis in which the country held four deadlocked elections. Those votes focused largely on Netanyahu’s divisive rule and his fitness to remain in office while on trial for corruption charges.
To his supporters, Netanyahu is a global statesman uniquely capable of leading the country through its many security challenges.
But to his critics, he has become a polarising and autocratic leader who used divide-and-rule tactics to aggravate the many rifts in Israeli society. Those include tensions between Jews and Arabs, and within the Jewish majority between his religious and nationalist base and his more secular and dovish opponents.
Outside the Knesset, hundreds of protesters watching the vote on a large screen erupted into applause when the new government was approved. Thousands of people, many waving Israeli flags, gathered in central Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to celebrate.
President Joe Biden quickly congratulated the new government.
“I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations,” he said in a statement after a G-7 meeting in England wrapped up.
Bennett tweeted: “Thank you Mr President! I look forward to working with you to strengthen the ties between our two nations.”
Netanyahus place in Israeli history is secure, having served as prime minister for a total of 15 years, more than any other including the country’s founding father,
But his reputation as a political magician has faded -- particularly since he was indicted in 2019 for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes.
Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2021