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Naftali Bennett sworn in as Israeli prime minister, unseating Netanyahu

Netanyahu's 12-year consecutive tenure comes to an end as new coalition achieves threshold required to form coalition
Naftali Bennett addresses MPs during a special session to vote in his new government at the Knesset in Jerusalem (AFP)

Naftali Bennett was sworn in as Israel's 13th prime minister on Sunday, ending Benjamin Netanyahu's 12-year consecutive tenure as prime minister.

Israel's parliament voted 60-59 in favour of the new government, which comprises an unlikely alliance of parties from left to right. 

Ultra-nationalist Naftali Bennett will head the new cabinet for a little over two years before his secular centrist ally, Yair Lapid, who was today sworn in as alternate prime minister, takes over. 

The disparate anti-Netanyahu bloc was cobbled together by Lapid, a former TV presenter, and includes eight parties, ranging from Bennett's right-wing Yamina party to centre-left Labor and, for the first time, MPs from the Palestinian community in Israel.

Bennett, a former defence minister and tech millionaire, was sworn in after a raucous four-hour session in Israel's parliament, the Knesset.

Israel's incoming government is so unnatural only Netanyahu can keep it together
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In a speech before the vote, Bennett presented his coalition as capable of healing a divided nation that was descending into a "maelstrom of hatred and in-fighting".

A former leader of the settler movement, Bennett vowed to "ensure Israel's national interests" in the occupied West Bank, expand the building of homes and oppose the Iran nuclear deal.

"Violence and terrorism are not a natural phenomenon or destiny with which we are supposed to just come to terms," Bennett said.

"The Palestinians must take responsibility for their actions, and understand that violence will be met with a firm response."

Meanwhile, Netanyahu's right-wing and ultra-Orthodox supporters shouted "shame" and "liar" at Bennett, accusing members of the bloc of turning their backs on Jewish religious observance and the Western Wall.

'Fake-right'

Israel's longest-serving leader, Netanyahu had been prime minister since 2009, after a first term from 1996 to 1999. But he was weakened by his repeated failure to clinch victory in the four elections since April 2019 and by an ongoing corruption trial, in which he has denied any wrongdoing.

His years in power have been marked by the expansion of settlements, illegal under international law, in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and an ongoing siege of Gaza, including three wars against the enclave's ruling Hamas.

His loss means he will not be able to push through parliament changes to basic laws that could give him immunity on charges he faces in his corruption trial.

Israel's incoming government is so unnatural only Netanyahu can keep it together
Read More »

The new government, formed after an inconclusive 23 March election, plans largely to avoid sweeping moves on hot-button international issues such as policy towards the Palestinians, and to focus on domestic reforms.

The coalition consists of: Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid, Naftali Bennett's Yamina, New Hope, Labor, Meretz, United Arab List, Kahol Lavan and Yisrael Beiteinu.

The improbable alliance emerged in the wake of a wave of violent Israeli repression of Palestinian protesters in Israel, occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, while the Israeli army and the Palestinian Hamas movement engaged in an 11-day war that led to the death of 248 Palestinians in Gaza, and 12 people in Israel.

However, holding this fragile coalition together is likely to be a challenging task, with Netanyahu now sniping from the opposition.

Netanyahu used his Knesset speech before the vote to accuse Bennett, who served as a minister under him, of being "fake-right" and vowed to stage a political comeback. 

"I will lead you against this dangerous, leftist government. God willing, we will topple it sooner than you think."

In a statement released on Sunday evening, US President Joe Biden congratulated the new Israeli government and reaffirmed American security support.

"United States remains unwavering in its support for Israel’s security," Biden said. "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."

"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 added.