Who’s who in Israel’s new patchwork coalition government

Who’s who in Israel’s new patchwork coalition government

Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year term as Israeli prime minister ended when the country’s parliament on Sunday approved a new coalition government led by right-wing nationalist leader Naftali Bennett.
The new government, a mishmash of political parties, has little in common except the desire to topple former prime minister Netanyahu.

The coalition stretches from far left to far right and for the first time includes a small party that represents the Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 21 percent of the country’s population.

Analysts say he should focus primarily on economic and social issues rather than risk exposing internal divisions when trying to resolve major diplomatic issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestinian leadership rejected the change of government, saying the Israeli prime minister will likely pursue the same right-wing agenda as his predecessor.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry has said it is “inaccurate” to call the Bennett coalition government a “government of change” unless there is a significant change in its position on the Palestinian right to self-determination and the creation of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Here are the leaders who will lead the new government:

Naphtali Bennett – Prime Minister

Naftali Bennett will serve as Prime Minister of Israel for two years until replaced by Yair Lapid [Fiel: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

Bennett heads the ultra-nationalist Yamina (Right) party which defends illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

A former ally of Netanyahu, Bennett has defended his decision to join the new coalition to save the country from a period of political turmoil that could otherwise see a fifth election in just over two years. He served in previous governments led by Netanyahu, most recently as Minister of Defense.

He is opposed to Palestinian independence and strongly supports the illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians and much of the international community see as a major obstacle to peace. The settlements are illegal under international law.

The Israeli leader has in the past called for the annexation of the occupied West Bank, but analysts say the plan seems unworkable, given his new centrist and left-wing partners.

Bennett, who made his fortune in Israeli high tech before entering politics in 2013, is known to be ultra-liberal on economics.

The new prime minister has expressed his opposition to relaunching the Iranian nuclear deal with world powers. And in his Knesset speech after winning the vote, he vowed to uphold Netanyahu’s policy of confrontation with Iran.

“Israel will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons. Israel will not be a party to the agreement and will continue to preserve full freedom of action. “

As part of the coalition deal, Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years and until he is replaced by Yair Lapid. He will be the first ruler in the country to wear a kippah, a skullcap worn by Orthodox Jews.

Yair Lapid – Minister of Foreign Affairs

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid leads Yesh Atid party [File: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP]

Yair Lapid heads the centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party and was the architect of the new government. His party is the largest in the coalition, but he has agreed to share power with Bennett to secure a parliamentary majority.

He quit his job as a TV presenter in 2012 and formed his own party, promising to ease financial pressures on the middle class. He also seeks to end many state-funded privileges enjoyed by ultra-Orthodox Jews, a long-standing source of anger for many secular Israelis.

He was first finance minister before moving into the opposition, which he led until Sunday.

Lapid will serve as foreign minister for two years, then serve as prime minister until the end of government, provided it lasts that long.

Benny Gantz – Minister of Defense

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz is also the leader of the Blue and White party [File: Jalaa Marey/AFP]

Just two years ago, Gantz, a former military leader at the head of the centrist Blue and White party, was the opposition’s best hope for toppling Netanyahu.

He came closer than other candidates to the overthrow of Netanyahu in three unprecedented elections between April 2019 and March 2020, preventing the former prime minister from forming a government bloc of right-wing and religious parties.

But he agreed to join Netanyahu in a “unity” government last April, a move that angered many of his supporters.

He will be part of the new coalition, remaining as the defense minister he held under Netanyahu.

Avigdor Lieberman – Minister of Finance

Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman leads the Yisrael Beitenu party [File: Ammar Awad/Reuters]

A far-right immigrant from Moldova who lives in an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, Lieberman has been a political wild card for the past decade. He joined Netanyahu governments, most notably as defense minister, but also resigned.

As finance minister, he will have to contain a budget deficit that has swelled during the coronavirus crisis.

He also said he would try to change the status quo between the government and Israel’s politically powerful ultra-Orthodox minority, which is a mainstay of Netanyahu’s outgoing government.

The ultra-Orthodox community has low labor market participation rates and relies heavily on government handouts while focusing on religious studies. Lieberman said he would work to integrate them further into the economy.

Gideon Saar – Minister of Justice

Likud member Gidon Saar was former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main rival [File: Abir Sultan/EPA]

Gideon Saar was Netanyahu’s main rival in Likud, but the former prime minister did his best to keep him out of the spotlight and higher portfolios. Frustrated, Saar launched a failed leadership bid, then created his own party.

At the head of the New Hope party, Saar will be promoted Minister of Justice, where he will oversee the justice system and become a member of the security cabinet.

Mansour Abbas – Deputy Prime Minister

Mansour Abbas is the leader of the United Arab list [File: Abir Sultan/AFP]

Abbas’s Small United Arab List will be the first party in an Israeli government to be chosen from among the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

He has separated himself from other Palestinian politicians who prefer to stay out of government and set aside differences with Bennett and other right-wingers to tip the scales against Netanyahu.

Abbas is expected to serve as deputy minister in the prime minister’s office. It aims to negotiate a sharp increase in government spending in Palestinian towns and villages.

But its presence is a potentially destabilizing factor. He has been criticized by the Palestinians for agreeing to support an Israeli government as Israel continues to occupy the Palestinian territories.

Addressing these tensions, Abbas told Italian daily La Repubblica on Friday: “There will be tough decisions to be made, including security decisions. We have to juggle our identity as Palestinian Arabs and citizens of the State of Israel, between civil and nationalist aspects.


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