Israel’s parliament on Sunday approved a new coalition government that sent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into opposition after a record 12 years in office and a political crisis that has triggered four elections in two years.
Naftali Bennett, leader of a small ultra-nationalist party, was sworn in as prime minister after a close 60-59 vote in parliament. But if he wants to keep the post, he will have to maintain a heavy coalition of political parties from the right, the left and the center.
The eight parties, including a small Arab faction that goes down in history as a seat in the ruling coalition, are united in their opposition to Netanyahu and the new election, but agree on few others. They are likely to pursue a modest program that seeks to reduce tensions with the Palestinians and maintain good relations with the United States without launching major initiatives.
Netanyahu sat in silence during the vote. After her approval, he got up to leave the room, before turning around and shaking Bennett’s hand. A downcast Netanyahu, wearing a black medical mask, briefly sat in the opposition leader’s chair before stepping out.
Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, remains the leader of the largest party in parliament and is expected to vigorously oppose the new government. If a single faction escapes, it could lose its majority and risk collapsing, giving it an opening to return to power.
The country’s deep divisions were clearly visible as Bennett addressed parliament ahead of the vote. He was repeatedly interrupted and loudly heckled by Netanyahu supporters, several of whom were escorted out of the room.
Bennett’s speech focused primarily on domestic issues, but he voiced opposition to US efforts to revive Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
“Israel will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” Bennett said, promising to maintain Netanyahu’s policy of confrontation. “Israel will not be a party to the agreement and will continue to preserve full freedom of action. “
Bennett nevertheless thanked President Joe Biden and the United States for their decades of support for Israel.
Netanyahu, speaking after him, vowed to return to power. He predicted that the new government would be weak against Iran and bow to US demands to make concessions to the Palestinians.