international affairs

Netanyahu Ousted As Prime Minister of Israel

Down and out, but still leading the opposition. Photo: Ilia Yefimovich/DPA/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

A unlikely alliance of political parties in Israel’s parliament has succeeded in ending the 12-year reign of divisive prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Amid raucous and contentious debate in Israel’s Knesset on Sunday, lawmakers approved — by a one-vote margin — the formation of a new coalition government made up of eight parties from across the political spectrum, united by little more than their desire to see Netanyahu gone.

The newly sworn-in prime minister of Israel is now Naftali Bennett, a wealthy tech executive and former Netanyahu aide who leads the small religious right-wing Yamina Party. Under the power-sharing agreement worked out by the coalition, Bennett will remain prime minister until August 2023, at which point centrist Yair Lapid will become prime minister for the following two years. (Lapid will serve as foreign minister until then.) But that’s only if the alliance can hold itself together that long — which very much remains to be seen. At least for now, however, the diverse group of politicians accomplished what they set out to do, and regardless of how long it lasts, change has finally come to Israel’s government after four inconclusive national elections in just two years.

Netanyahu’s continuous 12-year run as prime minister was the longest in Israel’s history, and it left an indelible mark. While it’s quite possible Netanyahu and his Likud Party will be able to mount yet another comeback and return to power, he is currently on trial for corruption, and losing the prime ministry will likely leave him more legally exposed. It’s also possible that the new coalition government will move to impose term limits to prevent anyone from ever again holding power as long as Netanyahu did.

Meanwhile, as Bloomberg’s Yaacov Benmeleh noted Sunday, there are nothing but hurdles ahead for Israel’s new government:

At the top of the new government’s agenda is passing the first national budget in three years to assuage concerns from investors and ratings agencies over Israel’s emergence from the global health crisis. Unemployment and government debt surged last year but Israel has for years been plagued by low productivity, a high cost of living and inequality. Four inconclusive elections over two years, spurred in part by Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial, only deepened its problems.

Finding agreement on diplomatic and security issues will be difficult because the coalition houses factions that are secular and religious, hawkish and dovish, and includes an Arab party for the first time in Israeli history. That makes some pressing regional issues potentially destabilizing.

President Joe Biden quickly congratulated Bennett and the new governing coalition on Sunday, saying in a statement that he was “fully committed” to working with them. He also later spoke with Bennett by phone to congratulate him personally.

Per Haaretz, before being ousted earlier Sunday, Netanyahu evoked the Holocaust while suggesting Bennett would not be able to stand up to Biden and the U.S.:

Describing the incoming government as an existential threat to the state of Israel, Netanyahu claimed that Biden, his “friend of 40 years,” asked him to keep their disagreements about Washington’s attempt to rejoin its nuclear agreement with Iran out of the public eye but that he had rejected his entreaties.

“In 1944, at the height of the Holocaust, Roosevelt refused to bomb the trains and gas [chambers], which could have saved many of our people. Today we have a voice, we have a country and we have a defensive force,” he said, in an implicit rebuke of Biden.

The end of Netanyahu’s reign prompted several large public celebrations in Israel on Sunday night:

Netanyahu Ousted As Prime Minister of Israel