Naftali Bennett Becomes Israel's New Prime Minister, Ending Netanyahu's 12-Year Reign
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For the first time in twelve years, Benjamin Netanyahu is no longer prime minister of Israel. Netanyahu's term as prime minister ended Sunday after Israel's parliament approved a new government formed by Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid.
On Monday, the new government posed for the traditional picture with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.
On Sunday night, Israel's Parliament, the Knesset, approved the new government by the slimmest of margins in a 60 to 59 vote with one abstention.
Bennett's supporters cheered after the announcement, then he exchanged a brief handshake with Netanyahu before taking the oath of office as the new prime minister.
"I am proud that I can sit in a government with people with very different views," Bennett said.
Before the vote, Bennett was heckled constantly by members of the outgoing coalition.
But Bennet, who was once Netanyahu’s ally and now rival, recognized his former boss.
"Thank you, Benjamin Netanyahu for many years of service and lots of achievements for Israel. As Prime Minister you worked for many years with devotion and to our political power, defensive power,” Bennett said.
Netanyahu now serves as leader of the opposition and cited how his governments have transformed Israel.
"Members of Knesset, our achievements from a marginal state to a rising power in the global arena. This is our way, mine and my friends from the national block, my friends of the real right. And 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,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu questioned if Bennett would be willing to disagree with US President Biden and vowed he would be back. Bennett now leads a checkerboard coalition of eight parties representing left, center, right and for the first time, an Arab Islamist party.
"Well it's true that this government has a very difficult path ahead of it, a narrow parliamentary majority, very heterogeneous government, and in this respect, it will be challenging to keep it together,” said Yohanan Plesner, President, of The Israel Democracy Institute.
Right after the vote, the new government held its first cabinet meeting. It faces daunting challenges at home and threats outside its borders. Still, earlier this year, Bennett told CBN News he was up to the job.
“I’m ready to take that responsibility. As former Defense Minister, former entrepreneur, and CEO of companies, I think I’ve got what’s necessary to pull Israel out of this hole and sort of go to the next phase of Israel as the start-up nation,” Bennett said.
CBN News Senior Editor, and Middle East analyst, John Waage commenting on the vote says Netanyahu has pledged to bring down the new Israeli government quickly, and he may have the opportunity to do that.
"The coalition parties have almost nothing in common except their disdain for Netanyahu and the desire to remove him from office. That isn't a winning formula for long-term success," Waage said.
He also believes Israel's new government will now almost certainly be tested in the international arena.
"It's most notable enemy, Iran, has plenty of proxies to threaten the new government," he said.
While US President Joe Biden congratulated Bennett, differences between the two allies on the Iranian Nuclear deal may test the new government.
“The renewal of the nuclear agreement with Iran is a mistake, a mistake that will give legitimacy again to one of the darkest and most violent regimes in the world. Israel will not let Iran arm itself with a nuclear weapon. Israel is not part of the deal and will continue to maintain full freedom of action,” Bennett said.
Netanyahu earlier claimed that Bennett won't be able to stand up to pressure from the Biden administration the way he would on a number of issues like Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the re-funding of UNRWA, and the contentious issue of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Bennett – a religious conservative - holds strong views that differ from President Joe Biden, particularly on the Iranian nuclear deal. Biden helped draft the original 2015 Iran deal and his administration is currently negotiating another agreement.
To confront the US on this issue and others, Bennett will head a divided coalition with many internal ideological differences, including an Arab party that holds anti-Zionist views.
Netanyahu may present other challenges, too.
"Netanyahu has pledged to bring down the new Israeli government quickly, and he may have opportunity to do that,” Waage said.
During Bennett’s speech, Netanyahu allies Shas and United Torah Judaism MKs badgered Bennett, calling him a deceiver and a fraud. However, Bennett promised to help the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) population, despite the MKs objection to being a part of his government.
Bennett vowed to create a new Haredi city for the area's growing population while assuring that the government would take steps to reach out to the Arab sector.
"This is not a day of mourning," Bennett said. "There is no disengagement here. There is no harm being caused to anyone. There is a change of government in a democracy. That's it. And I assure it is a government that will work for the sake of all the people."
"We will do all we can so that no one should have to feel afraid," he continued. We are here in the name of good and to work. And I say to those who intend to celebrate tonight, don't dance on the pain of others. We are not enemies; we are one people."
During the address, Bennett said his government would not authorize rocket fire on Israeli citizens from the Gaza Strip.
He also praised Netanyahu for his hard work over the years for the State of Israel, while commending his service to Ra'am head Mansour Abbas, Bennett said.
But after four elections and more than two years of political paralysis, it remains to be seen if this government will provide the stability many Israelis are hoping for.
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