Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, ended his 12-year tenure on Sunday as the country’s parliament approved a new coalition government. Taking over for now will be nationalist Naftali Bennett, a former Netanyahu ally turned rival who now faces the task of leading a diverse coalition that was approved by a razor-thin 60-59 vote. Netanyahu struck a defiant tone, patting himself on the back for transforming Israel “from a marginal country to a rising force” and vowing that he won’t be going anywhere and may be back soon. “If it is destined for us to be in the opposition, we will do it with our backs straight until we topple this dangerous government and return to lead the country,” he said. The new governing coalition will collapse “sooner than people think,” he added.
Netanyahu’s ouster marks an end to a two-year era of political paralysis in the country that held four inconclusive elections during that time. The political divisions that have marked the last few years were evident in parliament as heckles and souths of “shame” and “liar” frequently interrupted the session. “We are incapable of sitting together—what is happening to us?” Bennett said. “I am proud of sitting with people with who have very different opinions. We have decided to take responsibility.”
Under the agreement of the coalition that includes representatives from the left, center, and right, Bennett will hold the top office for the first two years and then will be replaced by centrist Yair Lapid, a former TV news anchor. It was Lapid who was largely responsible for brokering the coalition among eight parties that don’t have much in common beyond a desire to see Netanyahu out of power. The new ruling coalition includes the Islamist Ra’am party, marking the first time an independent Arab party is part of a governing coalition in Israel.
The marked divisions within the new coalition means most expect it to follow a modest agenda focused on domestic issues, reducing tensions with Palestinians, and maintaining good relations with Washington. “We will forge forward on that which we agree—and there is much we agree on, transport, education and so on, and what separates us we will leave to the side,” Bennett said. Some are optimistic that the constant questioning of whether the coalition can hold will motivate its members to prove naysayers wrong. Plus they know Netanyahu will be waiting in the wings. “I’ll be back,” Netanyahu told lawmakers. “Try to ruin our wonderful economy as little as possible so we can fix it as quickly as possible when we return.”
President Joe Biden quickly congratulated Bennet and Lapid and said he was “fully committed to working with the new Israeli government to advance security, stability, and peace for Israelis, Palestinians, and people throughout the broader region.” Bennett tweeted his response: “Thank you Mr. President! I look forward to working with you to strengthen the ties between our two nations.”