Benjamin Netanyahu is out for now but how long will Bennett rule?

Ending weeks of speculation and uncertainty about the possibility of a transition, the Naftali Bennett-led government received Knesset’s support by the narrowest of margins of 60-59

June 14, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Photo : Wikimedia Commons

Ultra-right leader Naftali Bennett replaced Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel on Sunday, June 13, after his “change” coalition received support by a narrow majority in the Israeli parliament. The vote ended a two-year period of uncertainty in Israeli politics.   

Out of a total of 120 Members of the Knesset (MK), 60 voted in favor of the new government while 59 voted against. The vote ended Netanyahu’s 12-year term. 

Israel’s 36th government comprises a wide spectrum of ideologically opposed political groups. The coalition includes right-wing parties Yesh Atid with 17 seats; Blue and White (8); Yisrael Beiteinu and Labor with 7 seats each; Yamina, New Hope and Meretz with 6 seats each; and Islamist Ra’am or United Arab List with 4 seats. An additional MK from Yamina voted with the opposition and another from Ra’am abstained from voting. 

It is for the first time in Israel’s history that an Arab party has joined the government. However, several Palestinian activists have criticized Ra’am for joining a right-wing government. Ra’am was once part of the Joint List, a coalition of Arab parties in Israel. Its leader, Ayman Odeh, welcomed the end of Netanyahu’s rule. However, he asserted that the Joint List will continue its opposition to the government until peace, equality and democracy are achieved.

 49-year-old Naftali Bennett was a leader of the settler movement and many of his stances are considered more hardline than his predecessor. He reportedly believes that Israel should annex most of the West Bank and that the Palestine issue does not need any resolution. He entered politics in 2005 after selling his company. He has served as a minister in various cabinets under Netanyahu. Bennett is a multi-millionaire former businessman and his Yamina (meaning rightwards) party holds libertarian views on the economy. 

The new government will have to oversee the economic recovery post the pandemic. It will also face probes into allegations of war crimes led by ICC and the UNHRC. 

Bennett assumes power even as a new wave of resistance is sweeping the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as among Palestinian citizens of Israel. This resistance has intensified especially after the bombings on Gaza which killed more than 250 Palestinians. At the center of these protests is Israel’s attempts to displace Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and other localities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.       

End of uncertainty? 

The formation of the new government is expected to end the two-year long political uncertainty in Israeli politics. In the elections held on March 23, the fourth since April 2019, no coalition or party was able to get a majority. However, given the narrow margin of majority of the Bennett-led government and Netanyahu’s dominance in right-wing circles in Israeli politics, nothing can be certain.   

According to the coalition agreement signed to form a new government, Bennett is to be the prime minister till August 2023 following which Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid will take over the post. Lapid is currently the foreign minister. Benny Gantz will remain the defense minister. 

Netanyahu has tried all possible ways to stop the coalition from forming a government and continues to try to break it. During his speech after the vote in the Knesset, Netanyahu vowed to come back to power, saying that he would try to topple the current government which is dangerous for Israel. He also asked his supporters to protest against the new government.

At the same time, Netanyahu may face a tough challenge from within his Likud party to his leadership due to the ongoing trials of corruption and rising discontent against his ways of functioning. However, given his long tenure — a total of 15 years — and his role in pushing Israel to the right, he cannot be written off so easily. As head of the largest party in the Knesset, Netanyahu will now serve as leader of the opposition.