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New Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sworn in, ending 12-year hold on power by Netanyahu


After four elections in two years, Bennett’s new government breaks a long political stalemate and ushers in the most diverse coalition Israel has ever known, including the first Arab party to sit in government. In his speech ahead of the confidence vote in the Knesset, Bennett celebrated diversity and warned of polarization within the country.

“Twice in history we have lost our national home precisely because the leaders of the generation were not able to sit down with each other and compromise. Everyone was right, but with everything. what they were right, they burned the house down on us. ”Bennett said. “I’m proud to be able to sit down with people with very different points of view than mine.”

Bennett became the prime minister as leader of Yamina, a right-wing party with just seven seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, making him the only prime minister in the country’s history with such a small faction. In contrast, Netanyahu’s Likud Party won 30 seats in the March election. Once again, however, Netanyahu was unable to concoct a governing coalition with a majority of the 120 Knesset members.

During the debate leading up to the swearing-in, Netanyahu attacked the coalition that ousted him from the prime minister’s office after a record 12 consecutive years, calling it a “weak” and “dangerous” government. Long regarded as the “magician” of Israeli politics, Netanyahu had survived years of challenges to his power, outlasting and outwitting his opponents. But that night he had too many opponents who wanted to see him go.

After touting his accomplishments throughout his years in power, Netanyahu attacked his rivals.

“You call yourselves the guardians of democracy, but you are so afraid of democracy that you are ready to pass fascist laws against my candidacy – the language of North Korea and Iran – in order to maintain your rule.” he said, referring to speculation that the new government would impose term limits or make it illegal for someone who has been charged with being prime minister.

Warning that the new government would not stand up to Iran, Netanyahu warned his internal rivals and external enemies: “We will be back soon.”

New Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sworn in, ending 12-year hold on power by Netanyahu

Middle ground

Bennett’s path to victory seemed almost lost during 11 days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants last month, when Netanyahu appeared to scuttle any chance that the opposition parties would form a government to replace him. But Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party which holds 17 seats, forged the agreements between the various parties that led to the end of Netanyahu’s grip on power. The arrangement puts Bennett at the head of a coalition that includes right-wing, left-wing and Arab parties, united in large part in their desire to dethrone Netanyahu.

These disparate interests will challenge the coalition to find common ground on key issues, such as the policy to be pursued with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank or how to manage relations with Gaza. The international community, including the United States, is pushing for the resumption of a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, but this government is ill-equipped to handle such negotiations, since two of the parties are fiercely opposed to the establishment of a peace process. ‘a state.

Instead, Bennett will focus on domestic issues during his two years as Prime Minister, before handing the reins over to Lapid as per their coalition deal. These will include the relationship between religion and the state, cost of living, and quality of life issues. Israel has also not adopted a budget since March 2018; the newly anointed government has three months to pass one, otherwise the Knesset will be dissolved and the country will once again head to parliamentary elections.

Yet the neophyte administration will have no choice but to deal with some of the thorniest issues. In East Jerusalem, the eviction of several Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood is still pending a decision from the High Court. The final decision was delayed in an attempt to avoid tensions and violence in Jerusalem last month, but it nonetheless sparked a chain of escalation that led to more than a week of conflict between Israel and Gaza, leaving hundreds of dead, mostly Palestinians.

Throughout his political career, the new Israeli Prime Minister has served as Minister of Defense, Minister of Economy, Minister of Education and more. But it has always been under Netanyahu, and Bennett began his political career as Netanyahu’s chief of staff. By replacing his former boss, Bennett has already carved his name into the country’s political history, especially after years of unprecedented political stalemate.

Bennett’s success and political survival ultimately depends on his ability to forge compromises between the various parties in the coalition, even if only on a narrow national agenda. Otherwise, he risks ending his tenure as prime minister soon after he begins.

CNN’s Amir Tal contributed to this report.

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