Israel Confirms New Prime Minister for First Time in 12 Years
For the first time in more than a decade, Israel will not be led by Benjamin Netanyahu. But his replacement, Naftali Bennett, may not introduce any radical changes to the current Israeli political system.
In a move which many thought to be improbable, Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, confirmed a new government on Sunday, ending the 12-year rule of Benjamin Netanyahu. During his time as Prime Minister, Netanyahu was a controversial figure, both in Israel and internationally. His term as Prime Minister of the world’s only Jewish state spanned three different US Presidents, with whom he enjoyed varying levels of comfortability and friendship. Now many in Israel are celebrating the foundation of a new government, as they viewed Netanyahu’s as being corrupt and unsustainable. Many in Israel believed that Netanyahu was clinging to power simply to escape judicial prosecution in a criminal corruption case. The former Prime Minister, who lost his right to govern by a vote of 60-59, vowed to come back and further stated that his time in the opposition will be short-lived.
The man replacing him as Israel’s Prime Minister will be Naftali Bennett, a self-proclaimed nationalist. His government was confirmed after securing an unusual political coalition of center-right parties, nationalist parties, and even Arab parties represented in the Knesset. Mr. Bennet is a 49-year-old millionaire, who previously owned his own tech companies. He is the current leader of the far-right Yamina party, which can be seen as being even more to the right than Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party. The deal which he struck with other parties to lead him into the post of Prime Minister, saw him agree to leave in 2023 to be replaced with Yair Lapid, a centrist and popular former TV host, according to Reuters. With the Yamina party only having six of 120 seats in the Knesset, the absolute stability of this varied coalition will be essential to keeping the mandate which Prime Minister Bennett now enjoys. During a tense and heated speech before the Knesset, Mr. Bennet thanked Mr. Netanyahu for his “lengthy and achievement-filled service” as he, at the same time, was labelled as a “liar” by loyalists of Mr. Netanyahu.
The coalition which helped to confirm the new government came as a surprise to many, as it included far-right, nationalist, Zionist parties, and Arab parties fighting for more political rights for Arab Israelis. With a margin of a single vote confirming the new government, the fragility of the new ruling coalition has some supporters of the new government worried that it may not last, especially given the deeply partisan nature of Israeli politics. Meanwhile some supporters of the government point to the coalition to prove that Prime Minister Bennett can bring together many different groups of Israelis.
The new government made it clear that a drastic change in foreign or domestic policy will not happen, but did say that they will focus more on domestic issues, including the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine and growing the post-pandemic economy. This focus will include a proposed new two-year budget for the country. While the government plans to focus on internal matters, it will be hard to ignore the growing anti-Israeli sentiment on the international stage. Enforcing a delicate ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza and keeping good relations with the United States will surely be on the top of the list of Mr. Bennett’s new government. Shortly after the vote in the Knesset was approved, US President Biden called the new Prime Minister to congratulate him on his new position and vowed to “advance security, stability and peace for Israelis, Palestinians and people throughout the broader region.”
As the new Prime Minister sets up his cabinet and the post-Netanyahu era officially begins, many around the world will be watching to see if any drastic changes occur in Israel or if it will remain business as usual under new leadership.