End of a Netanyahu Era: Naftali Bennet in The Israeli Driving Seat

Published June 13th, 2021 - 10:20 GMT
Netanyahu offered to resign on Friday in return for disbanding new government
Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protest near the Knesset (parliament) in Jerusalem on June 10, 2021, against a proposed coalition that could end Netanyahu's 12 straight years in power. Menahem KAHANA / AFP
Highlights
Under power-sharing agreement, Naftali Bennett will serve as PM for two years

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has failed in his final bid to extend his 12-year reign in power after his rival signed a power-sharing deal.

Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving leader, will be succeeded on Sunday by a coalition government that includes for the first time a party from Israel's Arab minority.

Under a power-sharing agreement, Naftali Bennett, of the ultra-nationalist Yamina (Rightwards) party, will serve as prime minister for two years.

Netanyahu, dubbed 'King Bibi' by his supporters, offered to resign as Prime Minister and allow Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who heads the centrist party Blue and White, to replace him in return for disbanding the anticipated coalition government.

Gantz was told that 71-year-old Netanyahu was 'ready to resign' on Friday morning and handed offers by several sources close to the politician, with the final one received shortly after midnight on Thursday, according to N12.

But his team vehemently denied the offer and the new Israeli government set to end Netanyahu's 12-year tenure as prime minister signed its final coalition agreements on Friday, pointedly including term limits.

Gantz's rejection came despite the timing of the proposed resignation - Friday morning - meaning he would have the reassurance that he could return to the coalition government with Netanyahu only having 48 hours to retract the letter.

The proposal also could have allowed him to serve for three years as prime minister, with Netanyahu becoming an MK - Member of the Knesset (parliament).

The coalition of parties from far-right to left is expected to focus mostly on economic and social issues rather than risk exposing internal rifts by trying to address major diplomatic issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Bennett said on Friday that the coalition 'brings to an end two and a half years of political crisis', although it was unclear how long the coalition's disparate elements would hold together. 

He will then hand over to Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party.

Lapid, 57, entered parliament in 2013 after a successful career as a newspaper columnist, TV anchor and author. His new Yesh Atid party ran a successful rookie campaign, landing Lapid the powerful post of finance minister.

But he and Netanyahu did not get along, and the coalition quickly crumbled. Yesh Atid has been in the opposition since 2015 elections.   

The party is popular with secular, middle-class voters and has been critical of Netanyahu's close ties with ultra-Orthodox parties and said the prime minister should step down while on trial for corruption charges. 

Bennett, meanwhile, is a former top aide to Netanyahu whose small Yamina party caters to religious and nationalist hard-liners. 

 

He was a successful high-tech entrepreneur and leader of the West Bank settler movement before entering politics.

It is far from certain that their coalition will last that long. In order to secure the required parliamentary majority, Lapid had to bring together eight parties that have little in common.

Their partners range from a pair of dovish, left-wing parties that support broad concessions to the Palestinians to three hard-line parties that oppose Palestinian independence and support West Bank settlements. 

Lapid's Yesh Atid and Blue and White, of which Gantz is chairman, and the United Arab List are the remaining members.

The coalition members are hoping their shared animosity to Netanyahu, coupled with the agreement that another election must be avoided, will provide enough incentive to find some common ground.

Netanyahu, who served an earlier three-year term in the 1990s, had previously warned of 'a left-wing government dangerous to the state of Israel'. 

The premier, who heads the Likud party and has developed a reputation as a wily political operator, scrambled to scupper the new alliance.

Likud's lawyers on Tuesday tried to hobble the emerging coalition by challenging Bennett's right to serve first as prime minister, given that it was Lapid who was charged with forming the government. 

But the legal adviser to Israel's president dismissed the challenge. 

Netanyahu's latest proposal came as Israeli police said they blocked a planned procession by Jewish ultranationalists through parts of Jerusalem's Old City, following warnings that it could reignite tensions that led to a punishing 11-day war against Gaza's militants last month.

The parade, which celebrates Israel's capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war, was under way on May 10 when Hamas militants in Gaza fired rockets toward the holy city, setting off heavy fighting.

Some 254 people were killed in Gaza and 13 in Israel before a ceasefire took effect on May 21. 

The war was preceded by weeks of clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian demonstrators in the Old City and in the nearby neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where Jewish settlers have waged a decades-long campaign to evict Palestinian families from their homes. 

This article has been adapted from its original source.


© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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