For the first time in 12 years, Israelis woke up to a new government and a new prime minister yesterday. In a 60-59 vote on Sunday, Naftali Bennett secured the backing of parliament and ousted longtime leader Benjamin Netanyahu. But Israel’s former head of state insists he isn’t exiting the political stage.
Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, narrowly approved the new coalition government on Sunday. The vote ended Netanyahu’s historic 12-year run. The sometimes divisive former prime minister, the longest ever to hold that office, isn’t going away. He will now serve as the opposition leader.
Eight different groups united to topple Netanyahu. Under an agreement with that coalition, Bennett will hold office of prime minister for the first two years of the term. Then Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will become prime minister.
David Bitan, a Likud (right-wing political party) lawmaker, says Netanyahu feels “cheated” by the formation of the Bennett-Lapid government. He “doesn’t want to give even the slightest legitimacy to this matter.”
After a Sunday swearing-in, the new leaders began working Monday. Outgoing President Reuven Rivlin, who finishes his term in office next month, hosted Bennett, Lapid, and the rest of the Cabinet at his residence in Jerusalem for the official photo of the new government.
Netanyahu aide Topaz Luk says the former prime minister will “fight this dangerous and horrible government” as opposition leader. “He’s full of motivation to topple this dangerous government as soon as possible,” Luk says.
World leaders have congratulated Bennett on becoming the 13th person to hold the office of Israeli prime minister.
Lapid, Israel’s new foreign minister and alternate prime minister, spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and “discussed the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel.”
Bennett, a former ally of Netanyahu turned rival, became prime minister only after a razor-close vote. The motion passed after a member of the Bennett-Lapid coalition came by ambulance from the hospital to the parliament building to cast her vote.
The new government’s coalition is fragile and diverse. Its representatives range from a small Islamist party to Jewish ultranationalists. Bennett says he intends to mend the many rifts dividing Israeli society. That’s a very big and ambitious goal.
Sunday’s vote ended two years of deadlocked elections. Those votes focused mostly on Netanyahu’s combative rule and his fitness to remain in office while on trial for corruption charges.
Despite the recent removal, Netanyahu has no intention of leaving politics. The decision ultimately isn’t up to him, for the Bible says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
To his supporters, Netanyahu is a global statesman uniquely capable of leading the country through its many security challenges. He has been known for being powerfully pro-Israel in his decision-making.
But to critics, he is dividing and overbearing. They see him as a person who worsens the rifts in Israeli society—including tensions between Jews and Arabs and within diverse Jewish groups. They fault him for not bringing an end to the violence in the region.
It remains to be seen whether Bennett can lead more effectively.
(Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, seated left, President Reuven Rivlin, seated center, and Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid seated right, pose with ministers of the new government in Jerusalem, on Monday, June 14, 2021. AP/Maya Alleruzzo)