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Israel’s new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett vows to unite the country

Israel’s new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has vowed to unite a country torn apart by four elections in two years of political deadlock.

He said his government will “work for the good of all citizens”, adding that priorities will be reforms in education, healthcare and cutting red tape.

The right-wing nationalist will lead an unprecedented coalition of parties backed by MPs in Sunday’s vote by 60 votes to 59.

He will succeed Benjamin Netanyahu, who was forced out of office after 12 years.

As part of the power-sharing deal, Mr. Bennett, leader of the Jamina party, will be prime minister until September 2023.

He will then hand power to Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid, for another two-year term.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, will remain leader of the right-wing Likud party and become opposition leader.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving head of state, is ousted.

The rise of Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett.

During Sunday’s debate at the Knesset in Jerusalem, the provocative Mr. Netanyahu promised:” We will be back.”

After lawmakers voted on a new coalition government, Mr. Netanyahu approached Mr. Bennett and shook his hand.

In his speech, Mr. Bennett, 49, said, “This is not a day for mourning. In a democracy, there is a change of government. It is.

“We will do all we can to ensure that no one has to be afraid. To those who are planning to celebrate tonight, I would say, don’t dance on the pain of others. We are not the enemy; we are one people.”

The Palestinian representative reacted with contempt to the new Israeli government.

“This is an internal Israeli matter. Our position has always been clear, what we want is a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital,” said a representative for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“This is an occupation and a colonial entity that we must resist by force to regain our rights,” said a representative for Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza.

US President Joe Biden congratulated Bennett and said he hoped to strengthen “close and lasting” bilateral relations.

After the confidence vote was announce, Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Knesset chamber and returned to the prime minister’s chair.

He was to be welcomed with a seat in the opposition.

It was a moment in political history: the fall of Mr. Netanyahu as Israel’s longest-serving leader.

He is not going anywhere, at least not for now. He will continue to sit on the opposition couch and try to undo, dismantle and otherwise “bring down” – as he put it – the coalition of the first new prime minister in 12 years.

This government is the most expansive Israel has ever had, but that could also make it the most unstable. Naftali Bennett will have to work hard to bring the parties together.

Why is that?

Mr. Netanyahu has had five consecutive terms, first from 1996 to 1999 and then from 2009 to 2021.

He called elections in April 2019 but failed to win enough support to form a new coalition government. Two more inconclusive elections followed.

After the third election, he formed a national unity government with then opposition leader Benny Gantz, but the deal failed and Israel returned to the polls in March.

The Likud bloc became the largest party, but after Mr. Netanyahu again failed to form a government, the task passed to Mr. Lapid, whose party came second.

Opposition to the continuity of the Netanyahu government grew, not only among the left and center, but also among right-wing parties normally ideologically aligned with Likud, including Yamina.

Although Yamina won only seven seats in the election, their support was crucial. After weeks of negotiations, Mr. Lapid managed to get Yamina to join a coalition of parties whose only common goal is to oust Mr. Netanyahu from power.

On 2 June, half an hour before the deadline, the eight majority factions signed an agreement that effectively sealed Mr. Netanyahu’s fate.

What will the new government look like?

By all accounts, Mr. Bennett’s government will be unlike any other in Israel’s 73-year history.

The coalition contains parties with very different ideologies, including, perhaps most importantly, the first independent Arab party, Rahm, to join the potential coalition government. The coalition is also expect to have a record nine female ministers.

The inclusion of left-wing Israeli parties, both Rahm and non-Arab, means that there could be friction on issues such as Israeli policy towards the Palestinians; for example, Yamina and another right-wing party, New Hope, are strong supporters of Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

There may also be difficulties on social policy: While some parties want to advance gay rights, such as recognizing same-sex marriage, the Islamist Ram party opposes this.

In addition, some parties want a further relaxation of religious restrictions, which Yamina – a national-religious party – might allow.

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