Israeli parliament approves new government, ousts Netanyahu

Nationalist Naftali Bennett is to take his place

Photo: EPA Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves Knesset after being ousted.

Israel’s parliament has put an end to Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year tenure as prime minister, approving in his stead a coalition government that has pledged to heal a nation drown in issues, Al Jazeera reported. Naftali Bennett, the head of an ultranationalist party that controls six seats in the 120-seat Knesset is now set to take the role of a prime minister after the parliament backed the new coalition government by a razor-thin margin of 60 votes to 59.

Bennett now takes office leading an unusual alliance of left-wing, centrist and right-wing parties, as well as a party that represents the 21% minority comprising Palestinian citizens of Israel. They have little in common except for a desire to unseat Netanyahu, yet If just one faction bolts, the coalition could lose its majority and would be at risk of collapse.

If the alliance proves to be successful anyway, under a rotational agreement, Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years, when he will be replaced by the centrist leader Yair Lapid.

The new cabinet, however, faces a handful of diplomatic, security and financial challenges: Iran, the US, a war crimes probe by the International Criminal Court, and economic recovery following the coronavirus pandemic.

The developments also come as tensions remain high in occupied East Jerusalem over Israel’s planned forced displacement of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah. Last month, attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound by armed Israeli police left hundreds of Palestinians wounded. Meanwhile, a fragile ceasefire is holding in the besieged Gaza Strip following Israel’s military assault on the enclave, which killed 253 people – including 66 children.

So, in order to survive, the coalition plans largely to avoid sweeping moves on issues such as policy towards the Palestinians in the occupied territories while they focus on domestic reforms. But with little to no prospect of resuming any sort of fair peace negotiations, many Palestinians are unmoved by the change of administration, saying Bennett will likely pursue the same right-wing agenda as Netanyahu.

At the same time, Netanyahu seems determined to continue casting a shadow over the new government. 

Netanyahu, the most dominant Israeli politician of his generation, failed to form a government after Israel’s 23 March election, its fourth in two years. The 71-year-old is loved by his hard-core supporters and loathed by critics. His ongoing corruption trial, on charges he denies, has only deepened the chasm.

But he remains the head of the largest party in parliament and is expected to vigorously oppose the new coalition, hoping that by embarrassing and undermining it. would give him an opening to return to power. On Sunday he even predicted the incoming government would be weak on Iran and give in to US demands to make concessions to the Palestinians.

“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 in our way,” the 71-year-old said.

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