Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest serving Israeli leader, was ousted as prime minister on Sunday after the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, voted to form a new government made up of a coalition of opposition groups pledging to heal caustic divisions caused by Netanyahu’s 12-year rule.
Netanyahu had failed to form a government after a March 23 election — the fourth in two years — and could not block the power-sharing agreement between the groups, headed by his former defense minister Naftali Bennett and opposition leader Yair Lapid.
Bennett and Lapid will each serve two years as prime minister on a rotating basis.
Bennett was sworn in immediately after the 60-59 vote. Lapid will replace him in 2023.
Netanyahu, 71, who has been prime minister since 2009 and previously held the post from 1996 to 1999, vowed “we’ll be back.”
“If it is destined for us to be in the opposition, we will do it with our backs straight until we topple this dangerous government and return to lead the country in our way,” he said.
In a statement, President Biden praised Bennett and Lapid and said the US would continue its long relationship with Israel.
“Israel has no better friend than the United States. The bond that unites our people is evidence of our shared values and decades of close cooperation and as we continue to strengthen our partnership, the United States remains unwavering in its support for Israel’s security,” Biden said.
The White House later said Biden called Bennett and offered the new prime minister his “warm congratulations.”
Biden highlighted his intention to “deepen cooperation between the United States and Israel on the many challenges and opportunities facing the region,” the White House said.
The leaders agreed that they and their teams would consult closely on all matters related to regional security, including Iran, the White House said and to advance “peace, security and prosperity” for Israelis and Palestinians.
Speaking earlier Sunday, Naftali thanked Netanyahu for his “lengthy and achievement-filled service on behalf of the State of Israel” and pledged to be prime minister for “all Israelis.”
Naftali said the new government would “end a terrible period of hatred among the people of Israel” in a speech that prompted shouts of “shame” and “liar” from Netanyahu’s supporters.
Much of the Israeli opposition to Netanyahu was personal. Three of the eight parties in the new government, including Bennett’s Yamina, are headed by former Netanyahu allies who share his hard-line ideology but had deep personal disputes with him.
Bennett, 49, is a former chief of staff to Netanyahu whose small party is popular with religious Jews and West Bank settlers. As he addressed the raucous debate, he was repeatedly heckled and shouted down by Netanyahu’s supporters. Some were removed from the chamber.
Bennett, an observant Jew, noted the Jewish people twice lost their homeland in biblical times due to bitter infighting.
“This time, at the decisive moment, we have taken responsibility,” he said. “To continue on in this way — more elections, more hatred, more vitriolic posts on Facebook — is just not an option. Therefore we stopped the train, a moment before it barreled into the abyss.”
The new Cabinet met briefly, and Bennett recited a prayer for new beginnings and said it was time to mend rifts. “Citizens of Israel are all looking to us now, and the burden of proof is upon us,” Bennett said.
The millionaire former high-tech entrepreneur faces a tough test maintaining an unwieldy coalition from the political right, left and center.
The coalition, including a small Islamist faction that is making history as the first Arab party to sit in a coalition, agree on little beyond their opposition to Netanyahu. They are likely to pursue a modest agenda that seeks to reduce tensions with the Palestinians and maintain good relations with the U.S. without launching any major initiatives.
“We will forge forward on that which we agree — and there is much we agree on, transport, education and so on, and what separates us we will leave to the side,” Bennett said. He also promised a “new page” in relations with Israel’s Arab sector.
Israel’s Arab citizens make up about 20 percent of the population but have suffered from discrimination, poverty and lack of opportunities. Netanyahu has often tried portray Arab politicians as terrorist sympathizers, though he also courted the same Arab party in a failed effort to remain in power after March 23 elections.
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