Naftali Bennett pushes Binyamin Netanyahu out of power in Israel

The new prime minister faces immediate difficulties | Middle East & Africa

6/14/2021 7:46:00 PM

The new prime minister will face an early test. Jewish nationalists plan to march through East Jerusalem, the Palestinian part of the city, this week

The new prime minister faces immediate difficulties | Middle East & Africa

ISRAEL HAS little in the form of ceremonies or protocols for the transition of power—and what little it has was largely forgotten, as the country has not seen a change of power in over 12 years. So minutes after its new government won a confidence vote on June 13th, the outgoing prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, had to be told by one of his colleagues that he needed to vacate the seat at the centre of the government’s bench. He has sat there for a total of 15 years, longer than any other Israeli prime minister.

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Naftali Bennett has become Israel’s 13th prime minister. The only sign of his new status was the phalanx of bodyguards who surrounded him as he left the floor of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). Mr Bennett, 49, is an unlikely prime minister. A former aide to Mr Netanyahu, he is the leader of a nationalist party, Yamina, that is one of the smallest in the new coalition. He got the top job by positioning himself between the parties loyal to Mr Netanyahu and those opposed to him. After a close election in March, both sides needed him to form a government. Yair Lapid, the leader of the opposition, had to offer Mr Bennett the first two years of the new prime minister’s term in order to convince him to abandon Mr Netanyahu. (Mr Lapid will take over after two years, if the government lasts that long.)

Mr Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption,did not go down without a fight.He has called the new government the “biggest election fraud in Israeli history, and in my opinion in that of all democracies” and refused to hold a formal handover ceremony. Before the confidence vote, right-wing parliamentarians in the Knesset heckled Mr Bennett, whom Mr Netanyahu described as a threat to Israeli security. “Bennett hasn’t got the international standing, the integrity, the capability, the knowledge and he hasn’t got the government to oppose the nuclear agreement,” said Mr Netanyahu, referring to the international deal under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief. “Iran is celebrating,” added Mr Netanyahu.

The outgoing prime minister has left behind two big disputes with the administration of Joe Biden in America. The first has to do with that nuclear deal. Prodded by Mr Netanyahu, Donald Trump pulled America out of the pact in 2018. Mr Biden is nownegotiating America’s re-entry,

as well as Iran’s return to compliance with the deal’s terms. “Who's going to say no to Biden?” asked Mr Netanyahu. Mr Bennett will have trouble sounding more strident than his predecessor, and he lacks Mr Netanyahu’s standing as a statesman, but he insisted that he would also oppose America’s renewal of the deal. “Resuming a nuclear deal with Iran is a mistake that will legitimise one of the world's most violent regimes,” said Mr Bennett. “Israel will hold on to its complete freedom of action [on Iran].”

The other dispute is over the Palestinians. The Biden administration intends to reopen its consulate in Jerusalem, closed under Mr Trump. America uses the facility to maintain its relationship with the Palestinians. Mr Netanyahu says the administration has also demanded that Israel freeze settlement building in the West Bank and the construction of new Jewish neighbourhoods in Jerusalem. On his way out, he railed against the demands. “Apart from Iran, the second challenge we face is preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state that threatens our existence,” he said. “The new administration in the United States has already revived efforts in this direction.”

In the past Mr Bennett has also opposed the creation of a Palestinian state and favoured annexing much of the West Bank.But he has said that all members of the new coalition will have to “postpone the realisation of some of their dreams”. He thanked Mr Biden for standing by Israel as it

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fought Palestinian militants in Gazalast month.Mr Bennett will face an early test. Jewish nationalists plan to march through East Jerusalem, the Palestinian part of the city, on June 15th. A similar event last month helped spark the fighting in Gaza. Mr Bennett will also have to decide quickly whether to allow money transfers to continue from Qatar to Hamas, the militant group that runs Gaza. Hamas has threatened to resume launching rockets at Israel if the transfers aren’t allowed.

Although a majority of Israelis voted for parties opposed to Mr Netanyahu, the new coalition was approved in the Knesset by just a single vote. It contains parties ranging from far-right to left on Israel’s political spectrum, and also includes, for the first time ever, an Arab Islamist party. In other words, the coalition will be difficult to hold together. Until the inauguration, its members had one joint purpose: to remove Mr Netanyahu. Now they have to run Israel.

Read more: The Economist »

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