- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 13, 2021

A coalition united solely by the proposition that Benjamin Netanyahu should not be prime minister took power in Israel, sending into opposition a figure who has dominated the country and the region for a dozen years.

An unwieldy coalition of eight parties headed by conservative former Netanyahu ally Naftali Bennett and centrist Yair Lapid controls just enough seats in the 120-member Knesset to oust Mr. Netanyahu.

Just hours before he was deposed, Mr. Netanyahu launched a bitter diatribe in the Knesset against the new government.

The final vote, taken after hours of debate, was 60-59, with one abstention, showing how narrow the margin of error is for the new government.

Mr. Bennett, a 49-year-old former high tech entrepreneur who spent part of his childhood in Canada and the United States, was jeered by Netanyahu backers Sunday as he promised to fashion a government that would “represent all of Israel.

“The time has come for different leaders, from all parts of the population, to stop, to stop this madness,” he said. “I am proud that I can sit in a government with people with very different views.”

The vote was the culmination of two years of political gridlock and four inconclusive elections centered largely on Mr. Netanyahu, whose conservative Likud party still controls the largest single bloc of seats in the Knesset.

Under the coalition agreement, Mr. Bennett will serve as prime minister for the first two years of the government’s term before giving way to Mr. Lapid.

Israeli political analysts say the coalition may struggle to stay in power that long. Its members span the political spectrum, from religious conservatives to far-left parties to the first Israeli Arab party to formally join a ruling coalition.

In the sometimes raucous debate before the vote, Likud supporters heckled Mr. Bennett repeatedly as he tried to address the Knesset. Mr. Netanyahu defended his record and vowed not to go quietly into political oblivion.

“Our successes turned Israel from a fringe state to a leading power,” Mr. Netanyahu said at one point.

“If we have to be in opposition, we will do this standing tall — until we bring down this dangerous government and return to lead the state,” he said.

Mr. Netanyahu faces a difficult path personally and professionally. He is under indictment on corruption charges in a legal proceeding that stalled while he remained in office. In addition, the new coalition is expected to introduce a limit of two terms for any prime minister, effectively barring a Netanyahu comeback.

The 71-year-old Mr. Netanyahu has served as prime minister for a record of 15 years, including the last 12. But Israeli politics has been stuck in neutral since 2019, as four separate national elections have failed to produce a majority big enough either to keep Mr. Netanyahu and Likud in power or create a coalition strong enough to defeat him.

Major events, including Israel‘s failures and then successes dealing with COVID-19, a string of diplomatic breakthrough deals with once-hostile Arab states, and even last month’s 11-day war with Palestinian militants, could not break the political deadlock.
Iran clash looms.

Iran clsh looms

The Knesset voted at a sensitive time for the Biden administration, which is close to forging a new agreement with Iran on a nuclear pact that the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government staunchly opposed. Mr. Netanyahu told the Knesset that the coalition government would be unable to stand up to Washington and European leaders pushing hard to revive the accord with Tehran.

Mr. Netanyahu‘s exit could give President Biden more maneuvering room and remove an Israeli leader who forged close ties with President Trump, conservative Republicans and evangelical Christians.

“I can’t imagine that anyone in the Biden administration is not cheering privately that Bibi is going,” said Paul Scham, a scholar at the Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland, using Mr. Netanyahu‘s widely used nickname.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement “warmly welcomed” the news of the new government’s election Sunday. and President Biden offered his congratulations to the Bennett government as well.

“I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations,” he said in a statement from the G-7 summit in England. He said his administration is fully committed to working with the new government “to advance security, stability, and peace for Israelis, Palestinians, and people throughout the broader region.”

Mr. Bennett, who rose through the political ranks as an ultranationalist fiercely opposed to an independent state for the Palestinians, also faces hard choices on how to govern, given how fragile and divided his coalition is on basic issues.

Israel has been unable to approve a government budget for two years because of political gridlock.

Shira Efron, a visiting fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, predicted that the new government would be unified for now by their shared distaste for Mr. Netanyahu.

But beyond some basic domestic political housekeeping, she said, it is unlikely that the coalition can take on big projects or deal with difficult issues such as the Palestinian peace process.

Ms. Efron said in a webinar Friday sponsored by the Middle East Institute that the success of the coalition will depend on Likud and whether it can move past Mr. Netanyahu and rebuild its political fortunes. Most are betting that Mr. Lapid will not get the prime minister’s seat in two years.

“Everyone here is really skeptical about the government’s durability,” she said.

• David R. Sands can be reached at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide