Israel’s parliament has voted to end Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year-long tenure as prime minister, approving in his stead an administration that has pledged to heal a nation bitterly divided over the departure of the country’s longest-serving leader.
Naftali Bennett, the head of a small ultranationalist party, was sworn in as prime minister after a narrow 60-59 vote in parliament. But if he wants to keep the job, he will have to maintain an unwieldy coalition of parties from the political right, left and center.
The new government will be formed by centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid and Bennett – who will serve as premier for two years before Lapid takes over.
They will head a government of parties from across the political spectrum, including for the first time one that represents the 21-percent minority comprising Palestinian citizens of Israel.
End of an era
Netanyahu sat silently during the vote. After it was approved, he stood up to leave the chamber, before turning around and shaking Bennett’s hand. A dejected Netanyahu, wearing a black medical mask, briefly sat in the opposition leader’s chair before walking out.
Netanyahu, the most dominant Israeli politician of his generation, failed to form a government after Israel’s March 23 election, its fourth in two years.
The 71-year-old is loved by his hard-core supporters and loathed by critics. His ongoing corruption trial, on charges he denies, has only deepened the chasm.
He remains the head of the largest party in parliament and is expected to vigorously oppose the new government. If just one faction bolts, it could lose its majority and would be at risk of collapse, giving him an opening to return to power.
His opponents have long reviled what they see as Netanyahu’s divisive rhetoric, underhanded political tactics and subjection of state interests to his political survival.
More to follow