Israel’s parliament is set to vote for a new government later Sunday, ending Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year grip on power after four elections and two years of political paralysis.
The vote will mark a historic change in the leadership of the Jewish state, replacing its longest-serving prime minister with Naftali Bennett, an ultra-nationalist whose Yamina party controls just six seats out of the 120 Knesset members.
Bennett, a 49-year-old tech millionaire who bills himself as more to the right than Netanyahu, will be prime minister for two years and should then step aside and make way for Yair Lapid, a former TV presenter who runs centrist Yesh Atid.
Lapid, 57, concocted an eight-party coalition that united the left fringe and the far right to an Islamist party oust Netanyahu. This is the first time in Israel’s history that an Arab party will share power with a Zionist government.
Netanyahu, the 71-year-old right-wing flag bearer, has ruled Israel for 15 of the past 25 years. He has spent the past two weeks trying to break up the coalition, which will have a one-seat majority. He lambasted Bennett for joining forces with center and left, repeatedly describing him as the “fraud of the century”.
He is expected to join the opposition as a defendant in an ongoing trial on three counts of corruption. He pleaded not guilty to all charges and dismissed the trial as a politically motivated witch hunt aimed at ending his tenure as prime minister.
For the Israelis, who have gone through four elections since April 2019 – three ended in a stalemate, while one resulted in a short-lived unity government – the vote will signal at least a brief intermission towards the stalemate. Politics. The coalition is weak, and political analysts are already predicting its demise due to a wide variety of disagreements – the rights of gays, the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, and even the rights of non-Orthodox Jews to marry freely.
Netanyahu served as interim prime minister for much of the coronavirus pandemic, eventually procuring enough vaccines to oversee one of the fastest vaccination drives in the world. But the Israelis did not reward this achievement with a clear victory for the right-wing bloc of parties in the March elections.
The formation of a coalition between its rivals was interrupted by a fortnight of inter-communal conflict in Israel, accompanied by a 11 days of aerial bombardment from the Gaza Strip to contain the Palestinian militant group Hamas and the widespread uprisings in the occupied West Bank.
More than 250 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces, and around a dozen have been killed in Israel in the worst violence since the 2014 war with Hamas.
But opposition leaders – four of the parties are led by people Netanyahu personally groomed and then betrayed in some way or another – have formed a coalition with a little more than half an hour to lose before a deadline that would have triggered new elections.
It includes the Islamist Ra’am party, which represents the traditional Muslim vote among Israel’s 2 million Palestinian citizens. He joins the government in exchange for billions of dollars in investments for one of the poorest strata of Israeli society.