JERUSALEM: A motley alliance of Israeli parties on Sunday ended Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12 straight years as prime minister, as parliament voted in a new government led by his former ally, right-wing Jewish nationalist Naftali Bennett.
In a seismic shift in the country’s turbulent politics, Bennett, a tech millionaire and former special forces commander, was sworn in at the helm of an ideologically divided eight-party bloc united only by disdain for the country’s longest-serving prime minister.
Netanyahu, 71, in typically combative style, vowed shortly before his defeat that “if it’s our destiny to be in the opposition, we’ll do so with our heads high until we take down this bad government and return to lead the country our way”.
Beloved as “King Bibi” and “Mr Security” by his right-wing supporters and condemned as the “crime minister” by his critics, Netanyahu has long been the dominant figure in Israeli politics.
But on Sunday, a vote in the Knesset legislature following weeks of intense political drama ended his government with a razor-thin majority of 60 to 59 in the 120-seat chamber. US President Joe Biden swiftly congratulated Bennett.
“I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations. Israel has no better friend than the United States,” he said in a statement.Delighted revelers packed a square near the Knesset (parliament) in Jerusalem and poured into Tel Aviv’s city centre to celebrate Netanyahu’s fall.
Throngs of people gathered in the coastal city, clapping, cheering and waving flags. In Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, Netanyahu’s opponents launched into celebrations, waving “Bye bye Bibi” placards. One of the demonstrators, Tal Surkis, 19, confessed to “mixed feelings” about the incoming change coalition, but said “it’s something Israel needs”. Bennett, 49, told Knesset before the vote that his government “represents all of Israel”.He said the country, after four inconclusive elections in under two years, had been thrown “into a maelstrom of hatred and in-fighting”.
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