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PoliticsMiddle East

Israel parliament confirms coalition, ousting Netanyahu

June 13, 2021

Israel's Knesset has voted for a fragile eight-party coalition, replacing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after 12 years in the top post.

Head of Oposition Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel Prime minister Naftali Bennett shake hands following the vote
Benjamin Netanyahu and Prime minister Naftali Bennett shake hands following the voteImage: Ronen Zvulun/REUTERS

The new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett presented his new Cabinet on Monday.

Lawmakers on Sunday had passed a vote of confidence for a coalition government, ending Benjamin Netanyahu's 12-year hold on power.

The coalition comprises bitter ideological rivals, united by their will to oust Netanyahu, who had been Israel's longest-serving leader. It won a razor-thin majority of 60 to 59, with one abstention, in the 120-seat chamber. 

Naftali Bennett was sworn in after the vote as prime minister, replacing his former ally and becoming Israel's first Orthodox Jewish leader.

After serving two years as prime minister, Bennett is supposed to give way to Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid Party  — a coalition member — under a rotating plan for the premiership.

The Israeli Knesset also elected Mickey Levy of the Yesh Atid Party to house speaker. He is to succeed the current speaker, Yariv Levin, of Netanyahu's Likud party.

Bennett's first cabinet address

Bennett opened the first meeting of his newly sworn-in cabinet on Sunday with a traditional Jewish blessing for new beginnings.

The country is "at the outset of new days," Bennett said. "Citizens of Israel are all looking to us now, and the burden of proof is upon us," he added. "For this amazing process to succeed, we must all know to maintain restraint on ideological matters."

Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in brief remarks that "friendship and trust" built their government and that is what will keep it going.

Key moments from the Knesset special session

Emotions ran high during the Knesset special session on Sunday leading up to the vote.

Both Bennett and Netanyahu delivered speeches through raucous boos from some lawmakers.

Bennett promised that the coalition "represents all of Israel" and said that the coalition government would open a new chapter in the relationship between the state and Israel's Arab citizens.

Betzalel Smotrich shouting
Right wing politician Betzalel Smotrich was one of the politicians who let emotions get the best of him during the special sessionImage: Ariel Schalit/AP Photo/picture alliance

He thanked Netanyahu for the role he played in this process.

He also vowed that the motley coalition of ideological rivals would oppose a renewed deal on Iran's nuclear program, saying: "Israel won't let Iran have nuclear weapons."

Meanwhile, Netanyahu, the leader of right-wing Likud Party during his speech vowed "the Israeli opposition will have a strong and clear voice."

"If it's our destiny to be in the opposition, we'll do so with our heads high until we take down this bad government, and return to lead the country our way," Netanyahu added.

Who is in the anti-Netanyahu coalition?

The coalition, which has 61 of the 120 Knesset seats, brings together eight disparate parties from across the political spectrum, ranging from the right-wing nationalist Yamina party, to the Raam party, a small Arab Islamic conservative party.

It is the first time an Arab party has joined an Israeli governing coalition. 

In total, the alliance includes three right-wing, two centrist and two left-wing parties, along with the Arab conservative party. It was cobbled together by centrist politician Yair Lapid.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett
Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett delivered speeches in the Knesset on Sunday

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett said the moment has brought "to an end two-and-a- half years of political crisis."

The head of the Islamist Raam party in Israel's parliament, Mansour Abbas, said Sunday that his 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."

World leaders react to Israel's new government

"I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet," US President Joe Biden said in a statement released shortly after the vote.

"I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations. Israel has no better friend than the United States," Biden added.

The new Israeli prime minister replied, saying "Thank you Mr. President! I look forward to working with you to strengthen the ties between our two nations."

"Germany and Israel are connected by a unique friendship that we want to strengthen further. With this in mind, I look forward to working closely with you," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a message addressed to Bennett and shared by her spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer on Twitter.

European Council President Charles Michel also congratulated Bennett and tweeted he is "looking forward to strengthen the EU-Israeli partnership for common prosperity and towards lasting regional peace and stability." 

Fawzi Barhoum, spokesperson for the Palestinian Gaza-based Hamas militant group, said that the government change will not alter how Hamas views Israel.

Israelis celebrate coalition win

Outside the Knesset, hundreds of people watching the vote on a large screen erupted into applause when the new government was approved.

People celebrate after Israel's parliament voted in a new coalition government
Israelis headed to Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to celebrate the end of Netanyahu's 12-year tenureImage: Corinna Kern/REUTERS

Delighted coalition supporters poured into the center of Israel's coastal city of Tel Aviv Sunday to celebrate.

In Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, Netanyahu's opponents broke out in cheers and launched into an evening of joyous celebrations, having rallied in recent days with "Bye bye Bibi" placards, using a popular moniker for Netanyahu. 

kmm/aw (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

 People celebrate after Israel's parliament voted in a new coalition government
People celebrated in Tel Aviv Israel's parliament voted in a new coalition governmentImage: Corinna Kern/REUTERS