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Netanyahu absent as new Israeli government survives confidence vote

Israel has a new prime minister for the first time since 2009 after a power-sharing government led by Naftali Bennett survived a confidence vote on Sunday. Bennett was sworn in as prime minister.

Why is this important: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister and the man around whom Israeli politics have revolved for a decade, will now become the leader of the opposition. Bennett, a former right-wing protector of Netanyahu, will lead the most ideologically diverse government in Israel’s history.

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  • The final vote was 60-59 with one abstention, the smallest possible majority for the new government.

  • The last: President Biden spoke by phone to Bennett shortly after the vote and said he was eager to work with the new government. Bennett thanked Biden for his support for Israel during the last operation in Gaza and said he was a great friend of Israel, Bennett’s office said.

  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Tony Blinken also issued statements welcoming the new government.

Driving the news: Netanyahu fought desperately to avoid this outcome, vehemently denouncing Bennett and pressuring his fellow Conservatives to drop him before the vote. Tensions were so high that the head of the Shin Bet internal security agency warned of possible political violence.

  • Netanyahu used his last speech as prime minister to denounce President Biden’s Iranian policies and claim that Bennett would be too weak to stand up to Washington. While Bennett was speaking, Netanyahu’s allies repeatedly interrupted him.

  • Shortly before the vote, reporters asked Netanyahu if he was committed to an orderly transfer of power and replied sarcastically, “No, there will be a revolution. What a silly question.”

And after: Netanyahu also vowed to quickly topple the government, which could be quite fragile given its small majority and deep ideological divisions.

  • Netanyahu, meanwhile, will lead the opposition while facing a corruption trial.

  • Netanyahu gave Bennett a brief, silent handshake after the vote. The two will meet on Monday so that Netanyahu briefs Bennett on several issues, but there will be no official ceremony to mark Bennett’s rise to power.

The big picture: Bennett became prime minister despite winning just 7 of the 120 seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, in the March elections.

  • In the post-election chaos, he played the role of kingmaker because neither Netanyahu nor Yair Lapid, the leader of the centrist opposition, could form a government without him.

  • Bennett ultimately chose to join Lapid and an eclectic coalition of other parties – including the Islamist United Arab List, or Ra’am, the first Arab party to join an Israeli government in five decades.

  • Netanyahu called Bennett’s decision “the fraud of the century” because Bennett had promised before the election not to associate with Lapid.

  • As part of their coalition deal, Lapid and Bennett will both veto government policies, and Lapid will become prime minister after two years.

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