Benjamin Netanyahu Is Out And Benny Gantz Is In. Now What? (#GotBitcoin?)
Gantz Declares Win, Rejects Netanyahu’s Call For Negotiations. Benjamin Netanyahu Is Out And Benny Gantz Is In. Now What? (#GotBitcoin?)
Benny Gantz vows to lead a broad coalition from across Israel’s political spectrum.
Israel’s former military chief Benny Gantz declared victory Thursday in Israel’s election and rebuffed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ’s calls for power sharing, as the country braced for weeks of political uncertainty at a time of rising geopolitical tensions in the Middle East.
Mr. Gantz vowed to lead a broad coalition from across Israel’s political spectrum, known as a unity government, ending several years of right-wing and religious majorities led by Mr. Netanyahu. The prime minister conceded Thursday that he would be unable to form the government he campaigned for, but insisted he would lead a unity government with Mr. Gantz’s Blue and White Party.
Mr. Gantz has yet to receive a mandate to form a government from Israel’s president, but he appeared to have a slight edge in unofficial results with 98% of the vote counted.
Mr. Netanyahu’s failure to gain a majority on his terms marks a humbling blow for a towering figure in Israeli politics who is now facing the possible end of his political career and fight to avoid going to prison. For the first time in a decade, he no longer appeared to be in control of the direction of Israeli politics, and even if he survives, he could emerge a much diminished figure.
He faces a pretrial hearing next month on corruption charges, which he denies, and could be forced to resign if indicted while not prime minister.
Mr. Netanyahu hinted Thursday that he would be willing to rotate as prime minister with Mr. Gantz, a situation that could allow him to retain the premiership and the potential protection it offers through any corruption hearings, if Mr. Gantz would agree to let him go first, which seems unlikely.
Mr. Gantz, who was the first to call for a unity government, rejected Mr. Netanyahu’s power-sharing agreement Thursday. His party called on Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party and the religious parties to ditch Mr. Netanyahu.
“I intend to form a broad and liberal unity government under my leadership,” Mr. Gantz said in a news conference, adding he had already begun trying to bring one together that represents “a real change in priorities.”
“We will not yield to any dictates,” Mr. Gantz said. Blue and White’s number two official, Yair Lapid, was blunter: “If Netanyahu moves aside, we’ll have a unity government.”
Mr. Netanyahu said in a statement that he was disappointed by Mr. Gantz’s remarks.
The coalescence around some form of unity government happened as the results of the election came into clearer focus Thursday.
Israel’s Channel 12 projected Blue and White leading Likud 33 to 31 seats with 98% of the vote counted.
The projection showed Mr. Gantz’s bloc of centrist, left-wing and Arab parties appeared set to get 57 seats, while Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition of right-wing and religious parties would get 55 seats.
Either would need the help of the small party, Yisrael Beiteinu, which looks set to get nine seats and is calling for a unity government between Likud and Blue and White.
Messrs. Gantz and Netanyahu met briefly on Thursday and shook hands at a memorial service for former prime minister and president Shimon Peres. Mr. Netanyahu’s office was also arranging a formal meeting on Thursday.
“Benny, we must form a broad national unity government today,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a statement, addressing his rival. “The nation expects of us, from the two of us, that we’ll be responsible and work together.”
While the statement wasn’t a concession, it marked a departure for a prime minister who values strength but seemed to be on the defensive.
“Netanyahu is no longer the Netanyahu we knew,” said Anshel Pfeffer, a Netanyahu biographer and longtime Israeli political journalist. “He’s no longer this guy that’s all powerful, that everyone is afraid of and can do anything.”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, whose largely ceremonial position includes the important task of charging a politician with leading government-formation talks, is expected to speak to the country’s political parties in the coming days. He would likely choose either Mr. Netanyahu or Mr. Gantz based on how many recommendations he gets for each man from the parties.
On Thursday, Mr. Netanyahu pointed to the last successful unity government in the 1980s, when Likud and a center-left alliance shared power for several years. Mr. Peres was prime minister for two years before handing power to Likud’s Yitzhak Shamir in 1986.
“Shimon and Shamir agreed to work together to navigate Israel’s path to safety,” he said.
Mr. Netanyahu said his group of parties would go into coalition talks with Mr. Gantz as a group together. Likud and the other parties in the coalitions said Thursday they wouldn’t join any government that doesn’t include all of them.
That could pose a difficulty for talks. Avigdor Lieberman, the head of Yisrael Beiteinu, has said he wouldn’t sit with any religious parties. Mr. Gantz has said he wouldn’t sit in a government with Mr. Netanyahu while he is under investigation for alleged corruption.
Messrs. Gantz and Netanyahu have also traded sharp blows on the campaign trail, with each calling the other unfit for office.
Mr. Netanyahu has criticized Mr. Gantz for supporting the Iran deal, for being open to negotiating with the Palestinians, and for having too little experience for the top spot in the government.
Mr. Gantz has said Mr. Netanyahu has become corrupt and too willing to work with extremists. He has criticized his inability to bring quiet to Israel’s south, which has periodically come under rocket fire from the Gaza Strip for many years.
The election was Israel’s second in five months, called by Mr. Netanyahu after he failed to form a government in May. Mr. Lieberman, his former aide and ally, abandoned his coalition, saying he wanted a unity government that excluded religious parties.
That decision helped set in motion an election framed around issues that sometimes put Mr. Netanyahu on the defense.
Mr. Lieberman relentlessly criticized Mr. Netanyahu’s reliance on ultraorthodox parties to remain in power—which many Israelis resent for how they have wielded their power to restrict public transport on the Sabbath, set marital laws and avoid military service. Messrs. Netanyahu and Gantz have enough seats to form a government without Mr. Lieberman.
Mr. Netanyahu tried to rally his base by demonizing any future government without him as one that would be run by Arab parties, a contention that political analysts said was unlikely. The campaign included efforts to put cameras in polling stations, a move that Arab parties said was designed to depress their turnout.
Instead it appeared to have galvanized Israel’s Arab citizens, who turned out in higher numbers for a unified group of Arab parties that mobilized voters around what they said were Mr. Netanyahu’s efforts to intimidate them.
Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List, a group of Arab parties that received the third-most votes, could become Israel’s first Arab opposition leader in the event of a unity government. While Mr. Gantz has signaled an openness to the Joint List, the Arab parties have never served in an Israeli government to avoid appearing to support military operations against Palestinians.
Arab Parties Back Gantz In Bid To Oust Netanyahu
No candidate has enough support for a majority in Israel’s parliament, indicating weeks of jousting.
Israel’s Arab parties on Sunday backed Benny Gantz as prime minister, endorsing a potential leader for the first time in nearly three decades in a bid to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mr. Gantz ’s new centrist party, Blue and White, won the most votes in last week’s election, with Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud a close second, leaving neither with enough seats to lead outright. Both are now jockeying to get the first chance to form a coalition government.
The Arab backing provided momentum for Mr. Gantz’s bid to lead the country, but by no means clinched it. Arab lawmakers said they wouldn’t sit in any government led by Mr. Gantz but would support him over Mr. Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving premier who they say has pursued policies that discriminate against Arab citizens of Israel.
Complicating matters, Avigdor Lieberman, seen as this election’s kingmaker, withheld support for both Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gantz, ensuring that neither would have a majority backing them to forge ahead.
Sunday’s moves highlighted the fractured nature of Israeli politics and set the tone for weeks of chess games, with Mr. Lieberman trying to influence them. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin began consulting with parties Sunday and is expected to choose who forms a government in the coming days or weeks.
Mr. Gantz is expected to pick up support from left-wing and centrist parties, while Mr. Netanyahu has received pledges from right-wing and religious parties. Neither is on track to receive support from 61 lawmakers to create a majority in the 120-seat parliament.
The results have put Mr. Netanyahu on the brink of losing power after he called a do-over election following his inability to form a government after a vote in April. Mr. Netanyahu faces a potential indictment on bribery and fraud allegations in the coming months, with a pretrial hearing next week, and would likely have to resign if charges were brought when he wasn’t prime minister.
“We’re in unprecedented times here in Israel,” said Mitchell Barak, a Jerusalem-based political analyst and pollster.
A surge in Arab turnout, to 60% from 49% in April, helped put the prime minister at a disadvantage.
Arab lawmakers usually abstain from recommending candidates for prime minister because they say Israel’s biggest political parties don’t support the country’s Arab citizens. This time, they decided ousting Mr. Netanyahu was more important than boycotting the nomination process, said Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, a union of four Arab parties that is the third-largest in Israel’s parliament, with 13 seats.
“For us, the most important thing is removing Benjamin Netanyahu from power,” Mr. Odeh said in a meeting with Mr. Rivlin on Sunday.
Mr. Odeh said the Joint List won’t serve in a Blue and White-led government. Their demands for joining would include a freeze on home demolitions in unrecognized Arab villages and immediately initiating a peace process with the Palestinian Authority based on Israel’s pre-1967 borders. Those positions would be politically challenging for Mr. Gantz or the head of any Zionist Israeli party to support, particularly since as much as 60% of the Jewish Israeli public identifies as right wing.
Balad, one of the four parties included in the Joint List, said later that it wouldn’t back Mr. Gantz, giving Blue and White 10 mandates from the Arab lawmakers.
Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party issued a statement criticized the Joint List’s move.
“We can’t have a government that relies on Arab parties that oppose the State of Israel,” it said.
Moshe Ya’alon, one of the heads of Blue and White, said Sunday the party will work toward forming a government with a broad spectrum of parties, including Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud, a coalition often called a unity government.
Mr. Lieberman cited the Arab parties’ support for Mr. Gantz as a reason he wouldn’t back him at this stage. At a news conference Sunday, he described the Arab parties as political enemies who are trying to ruin Israel from within.
“Wherever they are, we will be on the other side,” he said.
He also ruled out sitting with the Democratic Union, a left-wing group, and religious parties.
Mr. Rivlin said the Israeli public wants a stable government, which can’t happen without the two largest parties.
A unity government, for now, appears stymied by promises made ahead of the election, though it remains the most likely outcome. Mr. Gantz has said he would sit with Likud, but not with Mr. Netanyahu while he faces legal trouble. He has also promised not to sit with the religious parties.
Mr. Netanyahu said he would only sit in a government that included his right-wing and religious bloc, including two ultraorthodox parties.
It is up to Mr. Rivlin to square the circle of Israeli politics. Elected to the largely ceremonial role in 2014 after a long career with the Likud Party, Mr. Rivlin is widely respected and seen as being above Israel’s fractious politics. Experts said the apparent impasse could give Mr. Rivlin more power than the president has traditionally exercised.
“The question is, what is Rivlin going to do?” Mr. Barak said.
If the first person who gets the nod to form a government fails, Mr. Rivlin can give the mandate to a second person, likely the head of the second-largest party. If that fails, new elections are likely.
Israel’s Netanyahu Fails To Form New Government
President Rivlin gives Benny Gantz 28 days to try to hammer out ruling coalition.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he failed to form Israel’s next government after a September election that saw no clear winner, giving rival Benny Gantz the opportunity to create a coalition that would end the tenure of the country’s longest-serving premier.
President Reuven Rivlin said he would begin consultations Tuesday with the parties in the Knesset to initiate Mr. Gantz’s 28-day turn at trying to form a majority government of at least 61 seats in Israel’s parliament.
Mr. Gantz inherits political deadlock, as Mr. Netanyahu’s four weeks to form a government made virtually no progress. Mr. Gantz’s Blue and White party won the most seats in the September elections, 33 to Likud’s 32, but both parties have been unable to win over enough smaller parties to form governments without each other.
Mr. Netanyahu blamed Mr. Gantz and rival Avigdor Lieberman for the breakdown in discussions to form a coalition. The Israeli prime minister had been trying to form a unity government with Mr. Gantz’s Blue and White party, a centrist alliance led by three former chiefs of Israel’s military.
Mr. Gantz’s party has refused to form a coalition with Mr. Netanyahu as the leader of his party while he faces corruption charges—and also has been opposed to partnering with Israel’s religious parties. Mr. Netanyahu denies wrongdoing.
Mr. Gantz’s Blue and White party said it is “determined to form the next liberal unity government” under his rule, but he will need to either convince Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party to abandon its leader or go back on his promise not to include him in the government.
Mr. Netanyahu also failed to form a government after April elections, triggering a second vote in September.
Signaling that his 10 years in power might be over, Mr. Netanyahu said in his video message on Facebook that he would be open to serving as the opposition leader if Mr. Gantz tries to form a government that would rely on the support of Israel’s Arab parties, which he has accused of supporting terrorism and rejecting Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.
Israel’s Netanyahu Is Indicted On Bribery And Fraud Charges
Most serious charge, bribery, carries maximum prison sentence of 10 years; Netanyahu is first sitting Israeli prime minister to be indicted.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel was indicted on corruption charges, posing a heightened threat to his personal and political future and deepening uncertainty as the country hurtles toward an unprecedented third election in a year.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said on Thursday that Mr. Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection with three corruption probes, marking the first time a sitting Israeli leader has been indicted.
Mr. Netanyahu’s political survival—and his legacy as Israel’s longest-serving leader—may now depend on whether the Knesset grants him immunity, which would pause the indictment until after he leaves that parliamentary body.
Mr. Netanyahu, who denies the charges and pledges to continue to lead the country, has so far retained the support of his Likud party and other right-wing political allies.
But Mr. Netanyahu’s grip on the Likud party, already threatened following his two failures to form a government since his last coalition collapsed nearly a year ago, is now more likely to be challenged in a third election.
The indictment accuses Mr. Netanyahu of trading official favors for flattering news coverage, as well as gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, including pink champagne, cigars and jewelry. The most serious charge, that of bribery, carries a potential penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
“The interest of the public requires that they live in a state in which no man is above the law,” Mr. Mandelblit said in a rare televised speech.
Mr. Netanyahu’s indictment compounds what was already a prolonged period of uncertainty for Israel following two elections. The legal process now beginning could take months if not years to complete. Mr. Netanyahu doesn’t have to step down as prime minister now that he has been indicted, but he would if he were ultimately convicted.
A poll published by Israel’s Channel 12 Thursday night showed 46% of Israelis believe he should resign now. Another 17% said he should take a leave of absence.
The same poll found in the case of a third election, Israel’s current political deadlock would continue with Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party tying with rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, each getting 33 of 120 seats in parliament.
Mr. Netanyahu, who is nicknamed “the magician” for his ability to survive years of political challenges, is expected to try to hold on to the premiership as his best chance of avoiding charges.
Ongoing political chaos after both he and Mr. Gantz failed to form a government following elections in April and September offers him a potential life raft to remain prime minister as legal proceedings start.
In a blistering 17-minute response, Mr. Netanyahu slammed the corruption charges and the police whose investigations led to them, saying they amounted to “a coup against the prime minister.”
“They didn’t seek the truth. They sought me out,” he said. “There is one law for others, and there is one law for Netanyahu.” He vowed to continue to lead the country while “caring for the security and future of all of us.”
Mr. Gantz called on Mr. Netanyahu to resign. “The grave and complex challenges facing the State of Israel, both in terms of security and in the societal and economic arenas, require a prime minister able to invest his full time, energy and attention,” he said.
Israel’s parliament now has until Dec. 11 to choose a candidate to try once again to form a government. If 61 of the 120-members of Knesset don’t agree on someone, Israel will hold its third election in 12 months, likely in early March.
Mr. Netanyahu can seek immunity from the Knesset, but because of the interim government the process could be delayed because the parliamentary committee that would hear the request isn’t standing. Mr. Netanyahu can also try to seek a plea deal.
“He knows he will get immunity only if he is still prime minister and he controls the political system,” said Amir Fuchs, an expert at the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem-based think tank.
Mr. Netanyahu has been the dominant force in Israeli politics for more than a decade. Since his return to power in 2009—he served one term as premier from 1996 to 1999—he has driven Israel’s security, diplomatic and economic policies.
In recent years he has made Iran the country’s top security priority and has halted peace talks with Palestinians at the same time as helping to foster a world-class tech sector.
But Mr. Netanyahu’s growing reliance on the ultraorthodox parties to remain in power as the corruption investigations gained steam made it increasingly harder for him to chart a path to a governing coalition, first in April elections and then again after a September vote.
Avigdor Lieberman, who emerged as a kingmaker as the head of the secular Yisrael Beiteinu party, pulled his party’s backing after the April elections over differences with Mr. Netanyahu’s ultraorthodox allies.
In his indictment, Mr. Mandelblit accused Mr. Netanyahu of criminal wrongdoing in connection with three corruption probes, including allegedly offering bribes to improve his profile in the country’s media, for which he faces the most serious bribery charge.
Mr. Mandelblit alleges that the premier, in a quid pro quo relationship, granted lucrative regulatory favors worth an estimated $520 million to the owner of Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecommunications company, in exchange for positive coverage of Mr. Netanyahu and his wife Sara on a news website controlled by Bezeq’s ex-chairman.
Mr. Mandelblit said Thursday that the site granted hundreds of requests for coverage made by the couple, particularly leading up to the 2015 election.
Bezeq’s owner Shaul Elovitch, and his wife, Iris, were also indicted in connection with the case on charges of bribery and obstruction of justice. Arnon Mozes, the owner of Yedioth Ahronoth, was indicted on a charge of offering a bribe in connection to another case. Bezeq has previously declined to comment. A lawyer for the Elovitch family said they deny the charges.
Mr. Mandelblit, who was appointed by Mr. Netanyahu and was also his former cabinet secretary, called him a talented prime minister and said he decided to indict Mr. Netanyahu with a heavy heart. “It was not my choice. It was my duty.”
Mr. Netanyahu’s political allies joined him in condemning the two years of investigations as witch hunts and politically motivated. Recent polls also suggest the charges are unlikely to dent his standing among voters much, if at all. But the probability of a third election will likely spark a leadership primary in his Likud party.
Some Likud members privately acknowledge a growing frustration with Mr. Netanyahu’s legal struggles and his inability to form a government after first calling elections in April.
On Thursday, Mr. Netanyahu’s most popular Likud rival Gideon Saar called for leadership primaries if a third election takes place, though other Likud lawmakers have said they are not necessary. Other senior members have also begun speaking about taking over after Mr. Netanyahu leaves.
“The reasonable and necessary thing to do is set up a timetable for Likud leadership primaries,” Mr. Saar said on Thursday, adding that he isn’t sure Mr. Netanyahu could form a government after a third election and that he would be better placed to do so.
“These Likud ministers are not going to go down for a third time on the Likud titanic. It hit the first iceberg, and now it’s the second one, and if they find they’re going toward the third iceberg, they may just throw him overboard,” said Mitchell Barak, a political analyst and director at Keevoon Global Research, a Jerusalem-based consulting firm.
Zeev Elkin, a senior Likud minister who is close to Mr. Netanyahu, said he doesn’t expect an indictment will have any meaningful political effect and said primaries would be a distraction while other parties are focused on campaigning.
“He has all the public backing to continue to lead the national camp parallel to his legal efforts,” Mr. Elkin said on Israel’s Army Radio on Thursday.
Analysts and party members also warned against counting out Mr. Netanyahu’s ability to outsmart, outplay and outlast his opponents.
“Netanyahu is under control politically, of both Likud and the right-wing,” said Abraham Diskin, a senior fellow with the Jerusalem-based think tank the Kohelet Policy Forum.
Israel’s Netanyahu Faces Party Leadership Challenge
Prime minister touts his security credentials and global profile as former minister Gideon Saar vies to take reins for March elections.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rallied members of his Likud party to lend him their support in a primary election, touting his security credentials and high profile on the world stage as he attempts to chase off the first serious internal challenge to his leadership and extend his decadelong grip on power.
Since its inception in the 1970s, the party has had just four leaders. None have been voted out by party members before.
But this time, former interior and education minister Gideon Saar, a 53-year-old rising star in the Likud, hopes to convince the party faithful that new leadership is needed to win national elections in March after two previous votes failed to provide Mr. Netanyahu with the numbers he needed to form a new government.
Facing corruption charges and, in some quarters, rising consternation over his dependence on religious parties for his support, Mr. Netanyahu has campaigned the length and breadth of Israel in recent weeks in a bid to secure a convincing win.
On Wednesday, aides rushed him offstage at one of his campaign stops, in the southern city of Ashkelon, after militants in Gaza fired a rocket at the city. Israel responded by carrying out airstrikes against militant positions in Gaza belonging to the enclave’s ruler, Hamas.
The weather, too, has threatened the scale of the turnout, with a harsh winter storm lashing the country with rainstorms and high winds as the 116,000 eligible voters began to cast their votes. With five hours before the polls close, just 30% of eligible voters have cast their vote. In primary elections for the party’s list in February, 35% had voted by this time, according to a Likud spokesperson.
“Great forces, and not just the weather, are trying to get you to stay home,” Mr. Netanyahu wrote on Twitter as he urged voters to brave the elements. “A large victory for me in the primary will ensure a large victory for Likud in the parliamentary elections.”
The polls will close at 11 p.m. Israeli time, and the final results will be announced Friday morning.
In leadership contests since 2007, Mr. Netanyahu has won over 70% of the vote. Anything less than that this time may provide a blow to his image as the party’s uncontested leader and harm his chances in the national election, which will be the third in the space of a year. At stake is Mr. Netanyahu’s continued tenure as prime minister, in addition to his ability to persuade Israel’s Parliament to grant him immunity from prosecution after he was indicted last month on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Mr. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing, and if he retains his seat as prime minister, political analysts say he will likely receive preferential treatment from the legal system and will have more leverage to amass the votes needed in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, to secure immunity.
During the primary campaign, Mr. Netanyahu repeatedly brandished his security record and his close personal ties to world leaders, including President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He has also sought to depict himself as the victim of a witch hunt by Israel’s national police and legal authorities, telling supporters their democratic rights are being subverted.
“They won’t decide for us. Only we will decide who will lead the Likud and the country,” Mr. Netanyahu wrote in a tweet Thursday.
Rena Riger, who served as Mr. Netanyahu’s foreign-affairs director from 2000-03, while he was a private citizen, said she voted for the premier on Thursday because he was the only one with the skill and experience to influence world leaders.
“He’s the only global leader that can bring Putin and Trump together,” she said, adding that she worked alongside Mr. Saar in Mr. Netanyahu’s office and liked him, but “that his time has not yet come.”
Mr. Saar has long been considered a standout among a rising generation of politicians. His campaign recognized Mr. Netanyahu’s achievements but emphasized that the premier’s long career has left him politically stilted and unable to form coalitions.
In a chess analogy, Mr. Saar’s campaign ran an advertisement that compared Mr. Netanyahu to a king—he is sometimes called the “King of Israel”—who is trapped in every direction and cannot move. The advertisement depicted Mr. Saar as a knight, a chess piece with the power to jump over an opponent’s pieces into safety and perhaps into a winning position.
“Today is a fateful day for the Likud and for the country. Today it is in our power…to ensure the continuation of the nationalist camp’s rule,” Mr. Saar tweeted on Thursday.
Ofer Cohen, a 55-year-old businessman from Beersheba, said he voted for Mr. Saar because he believes the popular former minister will be able to break Israel’s political deadlock by joining forces with politicians who won’t work with Mr. Netanyahu.
“Netanyahu is blocked, and we want to continue to be in power,” he said.
The mere holding of a leadership primary at this pivotal stage for Likud shows the party is no longer singularly united under Mr. Netanyahu, according to David Bitan, a Likud lawmaker and a close ally of the premier.
“We’ve returned to the age of [differing] camps [within Likud] because of these elections,” Mr. Bitan said Thursday in an interview with Army Radio.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s Reign Over Israel Comes To An End
Benjamin Netanyahu, famous for his ability to maneuver out of the tightest political binds, was unseated Sunday after 12 straight years in power by a brittle governing alliance whose ability to end years of political chaos will be challenged by stark internal divisions.
The two-headed government approved by parliament on Sunday coalesced around a desire to remove Netanyahu, the main defendant in a tangled corruption trial, from office. Religious Jewish nationalist Naftali Bennett, 49, a former Netanyahu ally who opposes Palestinian statehood and the Iran nuclear deal, will serve until August 2023. He’ll be replaced by centrist Yair Lapid, who was the main architect of this unlikely coalition and will lead the country through November 2025.
“This is the hour that the burden of leading the nation and the country passes, as in a relay race, to the next generation,” Bennett, a high-tech millionaire, said in a speech to parliament before the vote over the unrelenting heckling of Netanyahu allies in the plenum. Bennett, whose politics are further to the right than Netanyahu’s, has drawn the ire of nationalists for hooking up in government with leftist and Arab parties.
The new coalition will govern with the slimmest majorities — commanding 61 of parliament’s 120 seats — and runs the gamut of Israeli politics: secular and religious factions, hawks and doves, free marketeers and social democrats, and an Arab party for the first time in Israeli history.
Survival could prove a challenge, given the conflicting ideologies. At the same time, the coalition’s raison d’etre — ousting Netanyahu — might prove to be the glue that holds it together to block any comeback bid he might make.
Netanyahu signaled such an intent in a speech to parliament before its vote of confidence in the new government.
“If we’re destined to be in the opposition, we will do it with our heads held high until we topple this dangerous government and return to lead the country in our way,” he said.
“We’ll be back — soon,” he added in his American-accented English, cultivated during studies in the U.S.
Minutes after the vote, U.S. President Joe Biden — who’s had frostier relations with Netanyahu than predecessor Donald Trump did — congratulated Bennett and Lapid on the formation of a new government.
“My administration is fully committed to working with the new Israeli government to advance security, stability, and peace for Israelis, Palestinians and people throughout the broader region,” Biden said in a statement.
After four elections in two years and one short-lived and dysfunctional government, the disparate new coalition plans to focus on issues where common ground can be staked out. It’s set a target to approve a national budget — last done in 2018 — within 145 days, with a focus on reducing inequality, boosting employment in the nation’s booming tech sector, and bolstering policing in Arab areas suffering from higher levels of crime.
It has also pledged to immediately pursue a term-limit law to ensure that another run like Netanyahu’s never happens again. In all, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister governed for 15 years, including a three-year stint in the late 1990s.
Finding agreement on diplomatic and security issues, however, will be difficult given the breadth of political thought housed in a coalition with such a razor-thin majority. And some pressing regional issues may prove destabilizing.
The U.S. is calling for reconstruction in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, pummeled by Israel in an 11-day conflict last month. Another impending test will be world powers’ efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal.
Palestinians were not encouraged by the changing of the guard. “Bennett’s government is built on occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid like Netanyahu’s government,” said Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
The Economy Israel’s Post-Netanyahu Government Stands To Inherit
Netanyahu, 71, finds himself outside the halls of the power after former nationalist allies turned against him following more than two years of political turmoil closely linked to his legal woes.
A world-lauded coronavirus vaccination drive couldn’t save him. Neither could diplomatic deals with four mostly Muslim states in the Persian Gulf and Africa, or close ties with Trump that yielded gifts including U.S. recognition of contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
As the installation of the new government looked increasingly likely, Netanyahu and his allies portrayed it as a menace to the country as they unsuccessfully tried to peel off defectors. Political discourse on social media grew more violent, prompting Israel’s internal security chief to take the rare step of warning against possibly harmful actions. Media reported that security details accompanying Bennett and his closest political ally were stepped up.
Netanyahu, commonly known as Bibi, holds a world view shaped by the history of Jewish persecution. His older brother, Yonatan, was killed leading the 1976 rescue of Israeli and Jewish hostages at Uganda’s Entebbe airport, and he’s described this personal loss as formative to his determination to combat terrorism.
Throughout his career, which included a stint as ambassador to the United Nations, Netanyahu emphasized Israel’s need to be strong to protect itself from regional enemies.
This won him fierce loyalty from supporters who saw him as a guardian of Israel’s security but at times led to conflict with domestic opponents and world leaders who wanted him to do more to end Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and deplored his efforts to undermine the nuclear accord with Iran.
He also left a major stamp on the Israeli economy, turning it away from the centralized, state-dominated system established by Israel’s socialist founders toward a more liberalized, market-oriented Western model. Critics lashed out at him for dismantling the welfare state.
Given the vulnerability of the new government, Netanyahu’s fall from power may be just an interlude. With this government possibly one crisis away from crumbling, he’s still the country’s most recognizable politician — and he possesses an especially strong incentive to reclaim his old job. A return to power gives him the chance to suspend his trial by passing legislation shielding a sitting leader from prosecution.
He’s accused of illicitly accepting gifts from billionaire friends and trying to win sympathetic press coverage by shaping regulation to benefit media moguls — charges he denies.
Ultimately, the fate of any comeback could depend on whether allies see Netanyahu as impeding the right wing’s return to power, said Gideon Rahat, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“That would be his end,” Rahat said.
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