Israel’s parliament – the 120-member Knesset – voted for a new government on Sunday, ending the historic 12-year rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Far right politician Naftali Bennettwho once worked for Netanyahu will become Israel’s new prime minister for two years in a coalition agreement that includes eight separate parties and is led by Bennett and centrist Yair Lapid.
Lapid becomes Secretary of State and Prime Minister after Bennett’s two-year term.
The change came about very narrowly: 60-59, with one member abstaining.
The new prime minister was harassed during his opening speech, which resulted in several right-wing and ultra-orthodox lawmakers from Netanyahu’s camp being escorted from the plenary by security forces.
In his speech, Bennett reiterated Netanyahu’s stance on the nuclear deal with Iran and called its renewal a mistake. Israel will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, he said.
“Israel will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” said Bennett, promising to maintain Netanyahu’s policy of confrontation. “Israel will not be a party to the agreement and will continue to maintain full freedom of action.”
The move degrades Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, sometimes known as “King Bibi”, to an opposition figure and increases his legal risk as he battles allegations of corruption in an ongoing criminal case. He has labeled the allegations a “witch hunt” and tried to use the Prime Minister’s office to gain legal immunity from the Knesset.
He is expected to attempt to derail the new coalition government and force new elections that would bring him back to power.
In his speech to parliament, Netanyahu made it clear that he had no intention of relinquishing the leadership of the Likud party.
He vowed to “carry on the great mission of my life and to ensure the security of Israel”. He added, “If we are destined to be in the opposition, we will do it with our backs straight until we overthrow this dangerous government and return to run the country our way.”
The coalition is a fragile alliance of strange bedfellows that includes right-wing factions, center-left parties and, for the first time in Israeli politics, an Arab party.
The opposition remains tough.
“We are now entering a new era of being a strong and militant opposition. And we stand united behind leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Fortunately, we (Likud) have had good experiences returning from the opposition. The new government is not very” harmonious, but I’m not predicting a quick collapse. But we are already seeing a time bomb that, if it explodes, will lead to new elections, “the outgoing Minister for Community Affairs of the Likud, Tzachi Hanegbi, told USA TODAY in the Knesset.
Continuation of the tough stance
Bennett and Lapid have agreed not to pursue contentious policies that divide them, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and instead focus on domestic affairs.
“The government will work as a unit for the entire Israeli public – religious, secular, ultra-Orthodox, Arab – without exception,” Bennett said on Friday. “We will work together, out of partnership and national responsibility, and I believe we will succeed.”
The new environment minister Tamar Zandberg told USA TODAY in the Knesset that the new government coalition wants to “do better” than its predecessor.
“I’m not sure you can do anything safe in Israeli politics. We have experienced two years of crisis – democratic crisis – constitutional crisis – with corruption with hatred, violence on the streets, and we believe that we can only try to do better. And I believe that if we have the good spirit that is upon all of us right now, it will be more than a short time, but you know that in the past two years we have seen governments that are broken after a short while. ” said Zandberg.
The leader of an Islamist party in the Israeli parliament says his faction will represent the interests of the Palestinian citizens of Israel within the new government.
Mansour Abbas said Sunday that his Raam party is making great sacrifices for its constituents and will seek to “advance a dialogue that will produce better, new, principled relationships for all citizens of the state: Jews and Arabs.”
Raam is the first Arab party to join an Israeli government, and Abbas said the partnership in the new government “will also bridge the gap at the national and religious levels”.
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Contributor: Associated Press