Israel’s post-Netanyahu era begins amid rancour and mistrust

Former premier predicts short life span for new coalition of disparate elements

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin shakes hands with Israeli prime minster Naftali Bennett. Photograph: Amir Levy/Getty

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin shakes hands with Israeli prime minster Naftali Bennett. Photograph: Amir Levy/Getty

 

Israelis on Monday started adjusting to the new reality of life without Binyamin Netanyahu as prime minister after the dramatic Knesset vote on Sunday night in which the new government headed by Naftali Bennett was sworn in by a majority of just one.

Mr Netanyahu, who had served as prime minister for 12 consecutive years, met for half an hour with Mr Bennett on Monday but refused to take part in the traditional ceremony marking the handover of power.

Addressing members of the new opposition, Mr Netanyahu said the new, eight-party government would not last long, repeating his message that it was based on “fraud, hate and power-seeking” and was too fractured to succeed.

He called for “iron discipline” and cohesion from the opposition in order to make life harder on the coalition and “bring redemption to the people and state of Israel”.

Following the Knesset vote, thousands gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin square to celebrate the end of the Netanyahu era.

Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh welcomed what he termed the end of “a dark chapter in the history of the conflict” with the departure of Mr Netanyahu. However, he said the Palestinians “do not see the new government as less dangerous than its predecessors”, citing Mr Bennett’s support for West Bank settlements.

Hamas view

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said any Israeli government was “a settler occupier entity that must be opposed by all forms of resistance, foremost of which is the armed resistance”.

The first real test for the new government comes on Tuesday with Hamas threatening to react, including with the firing of rockets, if a planned march by right-wing Israeli extremists takes place in Jerusalem’s old city.

A similar “march of the flags” event last month was interrupted when militants from Gaza fired a salvo of rockets towards Jerusalem, sparking off an 11-day conflict that left more than 250 people dead, the vast majority of them in Gaza.

The army has sent reinforcements to the West Bank, and extra police units have deployed in and around the old city. Israel has also raised its alert level for possible rocket fire from Gaza.

Palestinian groups including both Fatah and Hamas have called for a “day of rage” on Tuesday in response to the march, encouraging Palestinians to “mobilise” at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque and in the old city.

World leaders on Sunday extended their congratulations to Mr Bennett.

President Joe Biden said the United States remained committed to Israel’s security and he promised to consult closely on all matters related to regional security, including Iran.

Incoming foreign minister Yair Lapid, who is to take over as prime minister in September 2023 under the powersharing agreement with Mr Bennett, vowed to repair ties between Israel and “angry” Democrats in the US, saying Israel’s standing in the West had taken a beating under Mr Netanyahu’s leadership.