Israel’s parliament on Sunday approved a new coalition government, with 49-year-old Naftali Bennett sworn in as the new prime minister. Naftali, a staunch religious-nationalist, is a millionaire former tech entrepreneur and former Defense Minister. After this change of power, the 12-year term of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ended and now he has gone into the opposition. This is the result of a political crisis, which led to four elections in two years.
Naftali Bennett, the head of a small ultranationalist party, was sworn in as prime minister after a narrow margin of 60–59 votes in parliament. But there is a compulsion with him that he has to maintain a heavy coalition of parties from politically right, left and center to retain his post.
Eight parties, including a small Arab faction, are united in opposing Netanyahu and the new elections, but agree on a few more points. This ruling coalition of Israel has created history.
They are likely to pursue a modest agenda, which seeks to de-escalate tensions with the Palestinians and maintain good relations with the US. That too without starting any major initiative.
Netanyahu sat silently during the voting. After it was approved, he stood up to leave the chamber, before shaking Bennett’s hand. A dismayed Netanyahu, wearing a black medical mask, sat briefly in the opposition leader’s chair before exiting.
Netanyahu, who is facing a corruption trial, remains the head of the single largest party in parliament and is expected to strongly oppose the new government. Here, if any party from this coalition pulls out, it could help Netanyahu get back to power, as this coalition has come to power by a very small margin.
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When Bennett addressed parliament before the vote, Netanyahu’s supporters protested, repeatedly interrupting him to speak, and he was also heavily beaten. Later many of these were taken out of the chamber.
Bennett’s speech was mostly on domestic issues, but he opposed US efforts to revive Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Bennett vowed to uphold Netanyahu’s policy of confrontation, saying “Israel will not allow Iran to be nuclear-armed.” “Israel will not be a party to the agreement and will continue to maintain complete freedom of action,” he said.
Bennett nevertheless thanked President Joe Biden and the United States for decades of support for Israel.
Netanyahu, speaking after him, vowed to return to power. He predicted that the incoming government would be weak on Iran and would accept US demands for concessions to the Palestinians.
“If it is our destiny to be in the opposition, we will do it by our side until we topple this dangerous government and come back to lead the country,” he said.
Netanyahu is popular with hardline nationalists who dominate Israeli politics, but he may soon face a leadership challenge from within his party.
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