Israel has a New Government

Israel has a new government after yesterday’s Knesset vote in favour of a broad coalition that has ended Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year tenure as Prime Minister.

That vote was very close, with 60 in favour, 59 against and one member of the Israeli parliament abstaining. But it made Naftali Bennett, head of the Yamina Party, the new Prime Minister in a power-sharing agreement with Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid Party, who is due to take over as Prime Minister in 2023.

Benjamin Netanyahu made clear his intention to retain the leadership of the Likud Party, which is the largest party in the Knesset. He promised to lead it back to power and topple what he describes as a “dangerous government”.

Naftali Bennett, the new Prime Minister, promised to work to unite the nation after two years of political stalemate which have produced extreme political rhetoric and increased divisions amongst the Israeli people.

The new government is an unprecedented coalition of eight parties that span the political spectrum and include an Arab party for the first time in Israeli politics.

Naftali Bennett said the new government would “work for the sake of all the people” and that their priorities are reforms in education, health and government.

The ideological differences between those eight parties are huge. It was primarily the desire to remove Benjamin Netanyahu from power that prompted them to form a coalition. He has become an increasingly divisive figure in recent years.

A lecturer in politics at the University of Kent says members of the coalition share the belief that Netanyahu has corrupted Israel’s political system. But with just the one purpose in common, tensions will inevitably arise and many observers think the coalition will not last long.

The divisions in Israeli politics were obvious during Bennett’s speech to the Knesset before the crucial vote was held. He was interrupted constantly by members of Netanyahu’s coalition, but presented his new government as “reasonable and responsible” and said it would:

“… end a terrible period of hatred among the people of Israel.”

He struggled to make himself heard above the shouts of Knesset members from the Likud, Religious Zionism and ultra-Orthodox parties, but claimed the new government of right-wing, left-wing, centrist and Islamist parties came together to put an end to two years of political deadlock and “put Israel back on a sane path.”

As members of Netanyahu’s party shouted at Bennett that he was a criminal and a liar, he raised his voice to point out that they were providing proof of the urgent need to bring decency and unity back into Israeli politics.

US President Joe Biden was one of the first international leaders to congratulate the new Prime Minister, noting decades of steadfast American support for Israel and saying that he intends to:

“Work closely with the Israeli government on efforts to advance peace,
security and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted his congratulations to Bennett and Lapid, writing:

“As we emerge from COVID-19, this is an exciting time for the UK and Israel
to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that:

“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.”

Benjamin Netanyahu used his final speech as Prime Minster to criticise Joe Biden’s planned return to the nuclear deal with Iran. He compared that approach to US neglect of European Jews during the Holocaust – President Roosevelt decided not to bomb the train tracks to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

But Netanyahu’s former coalition partner, Benny Gantz, rebuked him for those remarks saying:

“No political move justifies breaking ranks and creating a public dispute …
with the US, our greatest friend.”

Political commentators say that it was Netanyahu’s manoeuvres to prevent Gantz from taking over as prime minister that led to the collapse of the previous coalition and his eventual loss of power.

It seems that he realised his mistake too late when he made a desperate last-minute attempt to stop the acceptance of the new government. He suggested that he would step down as prime minister immediately and allow Gantz to take up the role for the next three years.