Bennett sworn in as Israeli PM, removing Netanyahu after 12 years in power

12-year Netanyahu consecutive tenure comes to an end as new coalition achieves 60 vote threshold required to form government

Israel’s longest-serving leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been ousted from office by a loose coalition of rivals from across the political spectrum, united by their wish to end his 12-year run in power.

Naftali Bennett was sworn in as Israel’s 13th prime minister on Sunday, ending Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year consecutive tenure as prime minister.

Israel’s parliament voted 60-59 in favor of the new government, which comprises an unholy alliance of parties from left to right. 

Ultra-nationalist Naftali Bennett will head the new cabinet for a little over two years before his secular centrist ally, Yair Lapid, who was today sworn in as alternate prime minister, takes over. 

The disparate anti-Netanyahu bloc was cobbled together by Lapid, a former TV presenter, and includes eight parties, ranging from Bennett’s Yamina party to left-wing Labor and, for the first time, lawmakers from the Palestinian community in Israel.

Following the announcement, Benjamin Netanyahu stated to Reuters: “We’ll be back, soon.” Netanyahu said he would work in the opposition to “topple this dangerous government” and return to power.

Bennett, a former defense minister and a high-tech millionaire, was sworn in after a raucous four hour Knesset session.

In his speech, he presented his coalition as capable of healing a divided nation that was descending into a “maelstrom of hatred and in-fighting.”

A former leader of the settler movement, Bennett vowed to “ensure Israel’s national interests” in the West Bank, expand the building of homes and oppose the Iran nuclear deal.

“Violence and terrorism are not a natural phenomenon or destiny with which we are supposed to just come to terms,”  Bennett said.

“The Palestinians must take responsibility for their actions, and understand that violence will be met with a firm response.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s right-wing and ultra-Orthodox supporters shouted “shame” and “liar” at Bennett, accusing members of the bloc of turning their backs on Jewish religious observance and the Western Wall.

Israel’s longest-serving leader, Netanyahu was prime minister since 2009, after a first term from 1996 to 1999. But he was weakened by his repeated failure to clinch victory in the polls since 2019 and by an ongoing corruption trial, in which he has denied any wrongdoing.

His years in power have been marked by the expansion of settlements, illegal under international law, in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

His loss means he will not be able to push through parliament changes to basic laws that could give him immunity on charges he faces in his corruption trial.

The new government, formed after an inconclusive March 23 election, plans largely to avoid sweeping moves on hot-button international issues such as policy toward the Palestinians, and to focus on domestic reforms.

The coalition consists of:  Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Naftali Bennett’s Yamina, New Hope, Labor, Meretz, United Arab List, Kahol Lavan and Yisrael Beiteinu.

The improbable alliance emerged in the wake of a wave of violent Israeli repression of Palestinian protesters in Israel, occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, while the Israeli army and the Palestinian Hamas movement engaged in an 11-day war that led to the death of 248 Palestinians in Gaza and 12 people in Israel.

However, holding this fragile alliance together is likely to be a challenging task, with Netanyahu now sniping from the opposition.

Today,  he accused Bennett, who served as a minister under him, of being “fake-right” and vowed to stage a political comeback. 

“I will lead you against this dangerous, leftist government. God willing, we will topple it sooner than you think.”

In a statement released on Sunday evening, President Joe Biden congratulated the new Israeli government and reaffirmed American security support.

“United States remains unwavering in its support for Israel’s security,” Biden said. “My administration is fully committed to working with the new Israeli government to advance security, stability, and peace for Israelis, Palestinians, and people throughout the broader region.”

“I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations. Israel has no better friend than the United States, ” he added.

The self-described “government of change” – a mix of ideologically opposed politicians from hardline Jewish religious nationalists to a small Arab Islamist party – was sworn in on Sunday.

Reacting to the news, Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said “Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity. It is an occupation and a colonial entity, which we should resist by force to get our rights back.”