Benjamin Netanyahu has lost his 12-year hold on power in Israel after its parliament voted in a new coalition government. Right-wing nationalist Naftali Bennett has been sworn in as prime minister, leading a “government of change”. He will lead an unprecedented coalition of parties which was approved with a razor-thin majority of 60-59.
Mr Bennett will be prime minister until September 2023 as part of a power-sharing deal. He will then hand power over to Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid, for a further two years.
Mr Netanyahu – Israel’s longest-serving leader who has dominated its political landscape for years – will remain head of the right-wing Likud party and become leader of the opposition.
During the debate in the Knesset (parliament), a defiant Mr Netanyahu promised: “We’ll be back.” After the vote, Mr Netanyahu walked over to Mr Bennett and shook his hand.
Mr Netanyahu is not going anywhere, for now at least. He’ll stay in that opposition chair and try to unpick, pull apart and otherwise “overthrow” – as he puts it – the coalition of the first new prime minister in 12 years.
This government is Israel’s broadest ever – but that could also make it the most unstable. Naftali Bennett will have his work cut out just holding the parties together.
In appearance, Mr Bennett’s government will be unlike any which has preceded it in Israel’s 73-year history. The alliance contains parties which have vast ideological differences, and perhaps most significantly includes the first independent Arab party to be part of a potential ruling coalition, Raam. It is also expected to have a record number of nine female ministers.
The inclusion of Raam and left-wing non-Arab Israeli parties means there could be friction on issues such as Israeli policies towards Palestinians – Yamina and another right-wing party, New Hope, are staunch supporters of Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, for instance.
There could also be difficulties over social policies – while some parties want to advance gay rights, such as recognising same-sex marriages, Raam, an Islamist party, is against this.
In addition, some parties want to relax religious restrictions more extensively than Yamina – a national-religious party – will likely allow.
Mr Bennett has indicated his government would focus on areas where agreement was possible, like economic issues or the coronavirus pandemic, while avoiding more contentious matters.
“Nobody will have to give up their ideology,” he recently said, “but all will have to postpone the realisation of some of their dreams… We’ll focus on what can be achieved, rather than arguing about what cannot.”