Israel’s parliament — the 120-member Knesset — voted to swear in a new government Sunday, ending the historic 12-year rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Far-right politician Naftali Bennett, who once worked for Netanyahu, becomes 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 will serve as foreign minister and become prime minister after Bennett’s two-year stint.
The change came by the slimmest of margins: 60-59, with one member abstaining.
The incoming prime minister was heckled throughout his opening speech, resulting in several far-right and ultra-Orthodox lawmakers from Netanyahu’s camp being escorted out of the plenum by security.
In his speech, Bennett echoed Netanyahu’s stance on the Iran nuclear agreement, calling 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,” Bennett said, vowing to maintain Netanyahu’s confrontational policy. “Israel will not be a party to the agreement and will continue to preserve full freedom of action.”
The move relegates Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving prime minister who is sometimes known as “King Bibi,” to an opposition figure and increases his legal jeopardy as he battles corruption charges in an ongoing criminal trial. He has labeled the charges a “witch hunt” and tried to use the prime minister’s office to win legal immunity from the Knesset.
He is expected to try to derail the new coalition government and force a new election that would return him to power.
In his speech to parliament, Netanyahu made clear he has no plans on giving up leadership of the Likud Party.
He vowed to “continue the great mission of my life, ensuring the security of Israel.” He added: “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 in our way.”
The coalition is a fragile, odd-bedfellows alliance that includes right-wing factions, center-left parties and for the first time in Israeli politics, an Arab party.
The opposition is standing firm.
“We are now entering a new era of being a strong and militant opposition. And we are united behind the leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. Fortunately, we (Likud) have good experience with coming back from the opposition. The new government isn’t very harmonious, but I’m not predicting a rapid collapse. But we already see a time bomb that, when it explodes, will lead to new elections,” outgoing Minister of Community affairs from Likud, Tzachi Hanegbi, told USA TODAY in the Knesset.
Continued hardline stance
Bennett and Lapid have agreed not to pursue contentious policies that divide them, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to instead focus on domestic matters.
“The government will work for all the Israeli public — religious, secular, ultra-Orthodox, Arab — without exception, as one,” Bennett said Friday. “We will work together, out of partnership and national responsibility, and I believe we will succeed.”
The incoming minister of environment, Tamar Zandberg, told USA TODAY at the Knesset that the new ruling coalition aims to “do better” than its predecessor.
“I’m not sure something can make you certain in Israeli politics. We have seen two years of crisis — democratic crisis — constitutional crisis — with corruption with hatred, violence in the streets, and we believe we can only try to do better. And I believe that if we have the good spirit that is on all of us right now it’s going to last more than a short while, but you know we have seen governments that have broken up after a short while in the last two years,” Zandberg said.
The head of an Islamist party in Israel’s parliament says his faction will advance the interests of Palestinian citizens of Israel from within the new government.
Mansour Abbas said Sunday that his Raam party was making great sacrifices for the sake of his constituents, and will try “to advance a dialog that will bring about better, new, principled relations for all citizens of the state: Jews and Arabs.”
Raam is the first Arab party to join an Israeli government, and Abbas said that the partnership in the new government “will also bridge the gaps on the national level and the religious level.”
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Contributing: Associated Press