Netanyahu’s long reign as Israeli prime minister ends

New power-sharing coalition sworn in after tense vote, includes Arab party for first time

As Benjamin Netanyahu's record 12-year run as Israel's prime minister ended, Naftali Bennett convened his first cabinet meeting as leader and vowed to "heal the rift" amid the people of Israel. Video: Reuters

 

Binyamin Netanyahu’s reign as Israeli prime minister ended on Sunday night after 12 consecutive years in power.

The country’s parliament, the Knesset, swore in a new power-sharing coalition in a tense vote, with 60 in favour and 59 against. The government is made up of eight parties from across the political spectrum, from left to far right, and includes an Arab party for the first time in Israel’s history.

Naftali Bennett, leader of the far-right Yamina party, is to serve as prime minister until September 2023, when he is due to hand over to Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid, for a further two years.

Vowing to end “a terrible period of hatred among the people of Israel”, Mr Bennett was constantly heckled in the parliament by right-wing and ultra-Orthodox lawmakers who shouted “liar” and “criminal”. Some, who held up pictures of Israelis killed in terrorist attacks, were evicted from the chamber during a particularly stormy debate even by Israeli standards.

“The loud tone of the screams is the same as the failure to govern during your term in office,” Mr Bennett snapped back at the right-wing politicians.

An overwhelming majority of Israelis do not believe the coalition will last its full term.

Mr Netanyahu noted in his speech that he has returned to power from the opposition twice before. Addressing his voters, he said: “I will lead you against this dangerous, leftist government. God willing, we will topple it sooner than you think.”

He accused Mr Bennett of perpetrating the “greatest fraud in Israel’s history”, saying he stole votes from the right.

“Bennett doesn’t have the global standing. He doesn’t have the credibility. He doesn’t have the ability and he doesn’t have the support of his own divided government,” Mr Netanyahu said in a scathing attack on the incoming prime minister.

He also said Iran was “celebrating” because Israel now had a “weak government”.

Israelis celebrate the passing of a vote confirming a new coalition government during a rally in front of the Knesset during a parliamentary vote, in Jerusalem on June 13th. Photograph: Menahem Kahana/ AFP via Getty
Israelis celebrate the passing of a vote confirming a new coalition government during a rally in front of the Knesset during a parliamentary vote, in Jerusalem on June 13th. Photograph: Menahem Kahana/ AFP via Getty

The new government will not have the luxury of a grace period. Its first challenge will come as early as Tuesday when right-wing activists plan a provocative march through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s old city.

A similar march, planned for last month, was one of the events that created the tension in the lead up to the Gaza war. Incoming public security minister Omer Bar-Lev, of the Labour party, is likely to approve the plans submitted by the march organisers and the police, for a gathering with flags at the Damascus Gate followed by a march through the old city.

Hamas, the Islamist militant group that runs Gaza, has threatened to respond to Israeli actions in Jerusalem, and the Palestine Liberation Organisation warned of an “explosion” if the flag march went ahead.

Another hot potato left by the Netanyahu government is the large illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar, south of Nablus. Defence minister Benny Gantz, who will continue in the role in the new coalition, has vowed to evict the settlers but such a move will be a major embarrassment for Mr Bennett, whose party has traditionally relied on support from settlers.

Mr Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, still faces serious corruption charges, which he denies.

Sever Plocker, a commentator for Israel’s biggest selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot, wrote that Mr Netanyahu’s term as prime minister ended not because of his failures, but because of his personality.

“Over the past few years, he became his own greatest enemy: His egocentrism, his personal and public paranoia, his avarice, his ongoing incitement and his hubris unified the opposition to him from across the political spectrum to the point that they joined forces to successfully bring him down,” he said.