Israel Approves Coalition Government, Ending Netanyahu’s 12-Year Reign
Here’s what you need to know: Newly elected Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid after the Knesset’s vote on Sunday.Credit...Dan Balilty for The New York Times The long and divisive reign of Benjamin Netanyahu, the dominant Israeli politician of the past generation, officially ended on Sunday, at least for the time being, as the country’s Parliament gave its vote of confidence to a precarious coalition government stitched together by widely disparate anti-Netanyahu forces. Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, approved the new government by just a single vote — 60 to 59, with one abstention. After his supporters cheered the announcement of his election, Naftali Bennett then exchanged a brief handshake with Mr. Netanyahu before walking to the rostrum at the front of the parliamentary chamber and taking the oath of office as prime minister. Yair Lapid, a centrist leader, is set to take Mr. Bennett’s place after two years, if their government can hold together that long. They lead an eight-party alliance ranging from left to right, from secular to religious, that agrees on little but a desire to oust Mr. Netanyahu, the longest-serving leader in the country’s history, and to end Israel’s lengthy political gridlock. In a speech made before the confidence vote, Mr. Bennett hailed his unlikely coalition as an essential antidote to an intractable stalemate. “We stopped the train before the abyss,” Mr. Bennett said. “The time has come for different leaders, from all parts of the people, to stop, to stop this madness.” Before and after the fragile new government was announced on June 2, Mr. Netanyahu and his right-wing allies labored hard to break it before it could take office. They applied intense pressure on right-wing opposition lawmakers, urging them to peel away from their leaders and refuse to support a coalition that includes centrists, leftists and even a small Arab Islamist party. It was a watershed moment for politics in Israel, where Mr. Netanyahu, 71, had served as prime minister for a total of 15 years, including the last 12 years uninterrupted. But given Mr. Netanyahu’s record as a shrewd political operator who has defied many previous predictions of his political demise, few Israelis are writing off his career. Even out of government and standing trial on corruption charges, he remains a formidable force who will likely try to drive wedges between the coalition parties. He remains the leader of the parliamentary opposition and a cagey tactician, with a sizable following and powerful allies. Israel has held four inconclusive elections in two years and has gone much of that time without a state budget, fueling disgust among voters with the nation’s politics. No one was able to cobble together a Knesset majority after the first two contests, and the third produced an unwieldy right-center coalition that collapsed after months in recriminations. The new coalition proposes to set aside some of the toughest issues and focus on rebuilding the economy. But it remains to be seen whether the new government will avoid another gridlock or crumble under its own contradictions. Some of its factions hope to see movement away from the social policies that favored the ultra-Orthodox minority, whose parties were allied with Mr. Netanyahu. But Mr. Bennett’s party, which has a partly religious base, is wary of alienating the Haredim, as the ultra-Orthodox are known in Hebrew. Supporters also hope for a return to a long tradition of Israel cultivating bipartisan support in the United States. Mr. Netanyahu has grown more aligned with Republicans and was embraced by Donald J. Trump, the former president. It was uncertain where relations would go under President Biden. Naftali Bennett, right, at an election campaign event in 2019. Credit...Dan Balilty for The New York TimesNaftali Bennett, Israel’s new prime minister, is a former high-tech entrepreneur best known for insisting that there must never be a full-fledged Palestinian state and that Israel should annex much of the occupied West Bank. The independently wealthy son of immigrants from the United States, Mr. Bennett, 49, entered the Israeli Parliament eight years ago and is relatively unknown and inexperienced on the international stage. That has left much of the world — and many Israelis — wondering what kind of leader he might be. A former chief of staff to Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Mr. Bennett is often described as more right-wing than his old boss. Shifting between seemingly contradictory alliances, Mr. Bennett has been called an extremist and an opportunist. Allies say he is merely a pragmatist, less ideological than he appears, and lacking Mr. Netanyahu’s penchant for demonizing opponents. In a measure of Mr. Bennett’s talents, he has now pulled off a feat that is extraordinary even by the perplexing standards of Israeli politics: He has maneuvered himself into the top office even thou
The long and divisive reign of Benjamin Netanyahu, the dominant Israeli politician of the past generation, officially ended on Sunday, at least for the time being, as the country’s Parliament gave its vote of confidence to a precarious coalition government stitched together by widely disparate anti-Netanyahu forces.
Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, approved the new government by just a single vote — 60 to 59, with one abstention.
After his supporters cheered the announcement of his election, Naftali Bennett then exchanged a brief handshake with Mr. Netanyahu before walking to the rostrum at the front of the parliamentary chamber and taking the oath of office as prime minister.
Yair Lapid, a centrist leader, is set to take Mr. Bennett’s place after two years, if their government can hold together that long.
They lead an eight-party alliance ranging from left to right, from secular to religious, that agrees on little but a desire to oust Mr. Netanyahu, the longest-serving leader in the country’s history, and to end Israel’s lengthy political gridlock.
In a speech made before the confidence vote, Mr. Bennett hailed his unlikely coalition as an essential antidote to an intractable stalemate.
“We stopped the train before the abyss,” Mr. Bennett said. “The time has come for different leaders, from all parts of the people, to stop, to stop this madness.”
Before and after the fragile new government was announced on June 2, Mr. Netanyahu and his right-wing allies labored hard to break it before it could take office. They applied intense pressure on right-wing opposition lawmakers, urging them to peel away from their leaders and refuse to support a coalition that includes centrists, leftists and even a small Arab Islamist party.
It was a watershed moment for politics in Israel, where Mr. Netanyahu, 71, had served as prime minister for a total of 15 years, including the last 12 years uninterrupted. But given Mr. Netanyahu’s record as a shrewd political operator who has defied many previous predictions of his political demise, few Israelis are writing off his career.
Even out of government and standing trial on corruption charges, he remains a formidable force who will likely try to drive wedges between the coalition parties. He remains the leader of the parliamentary opposition and a cagey tactician, with a sizable following and powerful allies.
Israel has held four inconclusive elections in two years and has gone much of that time without a state budget, fueling disgust among voters with the nation’s politics. No one was able to cobble together a Knesset majority after the first two contests, and the third produced an unwieldy right-center coalition that collapsed after months in recriminations.
The new coalition proposes to set aside some of the toughest issues and focus on rebuilding the economy. But it remains to be seen whether the new government will avoid another gridlock or crumble under its own contradictions.
Some of its factions hope to see movement away from the social policies that favored the ultra-Orthodox minority, whose parties were allied with Mr. Netanyahu. But Mr. Bennett’s party, which has a partly religious base, is wary of alienating the Haredim, as the ultra-Orthodox are known in Hebrew.
Supporters also hope for a return to a long tradition of Israel cultivating bipartisan support in the United States. Mr. Netanyahu has grown more aligned with Republicans and was embraced by Donald J. Trump, the former president. It was uncertain where relations would go under President Biden.
Naftali Bennett, Israel’s new prime minister, is a former high-tech entrepreneur best known for insisting that there must never be a full-fledged Palestinian state and that Israel should annex much of the occupied West Bank.
The independently wealthy son of immigrants from the United States, Mr. Bennett, 49, entered the Israeli Parliament eight years ago and is relatively unknown and inexperienced on the international stage. That has left much of the world — and many Israelis — wondering what kind of leader he might be.
A former chief of staff to Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Mr. Bennett is often described as more right-wing than his old boss. Shifting between seemingly contradictory alliances, Mr. Bennett has been called an extremist and an opportunist. Allies say he is merely a pragmatist, less ideological than he appears, and lacking Mr. Netanyahu’s penchant for demonizing opponents.
In a measure of Mr. Bennett’s talents, he has now pulled off a feat that is extraordinary even by the perplexing standards of Israeli politics: He has maneuvered himself into the top office even though his party, Yamina, won just seven of the 120 seats in the Parliament.
Mr. Bennett has long championed West Bank settlers and once led the council representing them, although he is not a settler. He is religiously observant — he would be the first prime minister to wear a kipa — but he will head a governing coalition that is largely secular.
He leads a precarious coalition that spans Israel’s fractious political spectrum from left to right and includes a small Arab party — much of which opposes his ideas on settlement and annexation. That coalition proposes to paper over its differences on Israeli-Palestinian relations by focusing on domestic matters.
Mr. Bennett has explained his motives for teaming up with such ideological opposites as an act of last resort to end the political impasse that has paralyzed Israel.
“The political crisis in Israel is unprecedented on a global level,” he said in a televised speech on Sunday. “We could end up with fifth, sixth, even 10th elections, dismantling the walls of the country, brick by brick, until our house falls in on us. Or we can stop the madness and take responsibility.”
Educated in the United States, speaking flawless East Coast English, warning in pungent sound bites about the threats posed by Islamic terrorism and a nuclear Iran, the Benjamin Netanyahu who stormed into Israeli politics in the 1990s was like no politician his citizens had ever seen.
Before long, he would capture the prime minister’s office, lose it, then seize it again a decade later, becoming Israel’s longest-serving leader and inspiring such admiration that supporters likened him to the biblical King David. His political agility got him out of so many tight spots that even his detractors called him a magician.
He presided over an extraordinary economic turnaround, kept the perennially embattled country out of major wars and kept casualty tolls to historic lows. He feuded with Democratic American presidents, then capitalized on a symbiosis with the Trump administration to cement historic gains, including the opening of a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
He compartmentalized the Palestinian conflict, snubbing the endless peace talks that had stymied his predecessors, unilaterally expanding the Jewish presence in the occupied West Bank and treating Palestinians largely as a security threat to be contained.
While the chance for a lasting peace with the Palestinians — the singular achievement that could give Israelis the long-term stability and worldwide acceptance — receded on his watch, he struck watershed accords with four Arab countries that had long shunned Israel in solidarity with the Palestinians. Those agreements overturned decades of conventional wisdom that peace with the Palestinians had to come first, and constitute perhaps his most far-reaching achievement.
Still, he was a deeply polarizing figure, governing from the right, branding adversaries as traitors, anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, obsessed with power and comfortable deploying street-fighter tactics to retain it.
The intuitive media savvy that sped his rise to power curdled in time into an almost narcissistic obsession. His efforts to control his image, including allegations that he bribed media executives for favorable news coverage, led to criminal charges that haunted his final years in office.
Even as he surpassed the tenure of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding leader, in 2019, he drove Israelis to exhaustion with four elections in two years in which the main issue was him, and the electorate split down the middle each time.
Now, Mr. Netanyahu leaves power nearly a quarter-century after he first became prime minister in 1996.
Among the most important issues that the new Bennett government will confront is how to manage political, military and intelligence coordination with the Biden administration, which will affect how it addresses almost all other foreign, national security and economic policy challenges. At the center of current dialogue is the soon-to-be-concluded, revived nuclear deal with Iran.
The defense establishment of Israel, including the military and the intelligence agencies, see Iran as the main enemy of the country, and the most difficult challenge of all.
Benjamin Netanyahu took the position that the original nuclear deal, negotiated in 2015 and known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, did not give Israel enough security from the possibility that Iran would try to develop a nuclear bomb. He also objected that the deal did not cover any other crucial topics like Iranian support for militias in neighboring countries.
This view was generally shared across the political spectrum in Israel, and was backed by most of the country’s defense establishment.It is apparently the position of the new government, as well.
“The renewal of the nuclear agreement is a mistake,” Naftali Bennett said in his opening remarks in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, before Sunday’s vote made him prime minister. “Israel will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and will maintain full freedom of action,” he added, using words similar to those used at various times by Mr. Netanyahu and members of his government.
The sabotage and assassination campaign against the Iranian nuclear project led by the Mossad, Israel’s spy service, continued even after President Biden was elected and negotiations to rejoin the deal began. And the Mossad’s new director, David Barnea, has hinted that these tactics could still be on the table.
“The probable agreement with the superpowers only reinforces the sense of isolation we are in on this issue,” he said in a speech he made when taking on the new post on June 1.
Mr. Barnea said that if Iran continues with its nuclear program, “it will come up against the full force of the Mossad.” Referring to Iran’s nuclear efforts, he hinted at Israel’s possible responses, saying the Mossad was “well aware of the program’s various components, the officials active within it, as well as those who give them the orders how to operate.”
Still, Mr. Bennet is considering trying to influence some terms of the new deal, an effort that Mr. Netanyahu refused to contemplate. If that happens and some of the Israeli requests are fulfilled, Israel’s opposition to the deal may decrease.
Mr. Bennet and his chief partner, Yair Lapid, have agreed that Israel will try to keep public disagreements with the United States to a minimum and not take the adversarial stand it did under the Obama administration, according to a person familiar with the negotiations that led to the formation of the new coalition. To do that, Mr. Bennet is considering replacing Gilad Ardan, the current ambassador to Washington and a longtime Netanyahu political ally, with a confidante of his own.
If the end of Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year reign as prime minister is a political earthquake inside Israel, its tremors stop clearly at Israel’s borders.
The political drama has solicited barely a shrug from Israel’s Arab neighbors, who do not expect it to lead to substantial changes in the issues they care about — namely, Israel’s approach to the Palestinians or to the wider Middle East.
“Truly this is not being talked about or thought about,” said Elham Fakhro, senior analyst for Gulf States at the International Crisis Group. “For those who care about the Palestinian side, they see every Israeli government as similar, they feel like the occupation is going to continue regardless and it doesn’t matter who is the face of it.”
Mr. Netanyahu’s long tenure as Israel’s dominant politician has seen shifts in Israel’s relations with the Arabs. The peace process with the Palestinians has fallen dormant. Israel has stepped up its shadow war against Iran by regularly bombing targets associated with its allies in Syria. And in cooperation with former President Donald J. Trump, Israel reached new agreements to establish diplomatic relations with four Arab states, helping erode what was long considered an Arab consensus against engaging with the Jewish state.
But few in the Arab world expect any of that to change now that Mr. Netanyahu is being replaced at the helm of Israel’s government.
The new prime minister, Naftali Bennet, is at least as hostile to the idea of a Palestinian state as Mr. Netanyahu. And there are no signs that any of the parties to the agreements with the four Arab states, which began with the so-called Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and were followed by similar deals with Sudan and Morocco, are considering throwing them out.
“The Abraham Accords are not a Netanyahu accord,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a political scientist in the U.A.E. “They are not even an Israel accord. They are a U.A.E.-driven accord and they will outlast Netanyahu or any Israeli prime minister.”
“The Abraham Accords are here to stay,” he continued, “and that is good for the U.A.E., good for Israel and good for America.”
Mr. Netanyahu’s departure could actually make the agreement easier to preserve, Mr. Abdulla said, since the longtime prime minister was widely seen as arrogant and pretentious.
“It is good for the accord that he is gone,” Mr. Abdulla said, adding that it would have been awkward for Mr. Netanyahu to visit Abu Dhabi, the Emirati capital.
Large parts of the population in many Arab countries still oppose Israel’s existence or strongly oppose its blockade of the Gaza Strip, which it enforces with Egypt, and its decades-old occupation of the West Bank. That gives them little interest in Israel’s internal politics since significant changes to those policies are not on the table.
Now that the Israeli Parliament has approved a new government coalition — a gravity-defying construction with a right-wing leader and blocs including the left and, for the first time, an independent Arab party — its survival will immediately become its main issue.
Israel’s parliamentary democracy veered in a presidential direction under Mr. Netanyahu. In the end, his increasingly dismissive style had alienated too many people, especially among nominal allies on the right.
An agreement to return to democratic norms may be the underlying glue of an unlikely coalition.
“The parties are disparate, but they share a commitment to reconstitute Israel as a functioning liberal democracy,” said Shlomo Avineri, a prominent political scientist. “In recent years we saw Netanyahu begin to govern in a semi-authoritarian way.”
Success will require constant compromise. “They will not deal with the highly contentious issues between left and right,” said Tamar Hermann, a professor of political science at Israel’s Open University.
In practice, that means a likely concentration on domestic rather than foreign affairs. Israel has not had a budget in nearly two years of political turmoil and repetitive elections. As prime minister, Naftali Bennett, a self-made tech millionaire who is considered to be to the right even of Mr. Netanyahu, is determined to deliver higher standards of living and prosperity to a population weary of such paralysis.
The delicate questions to be deferred or finessed would include any renewed peace negotiations with the Palestinians and any major settlement expansion in the West Bank.
Establishing good relations with the Biden administration, a priority, and improving relations with America’s majority liberal Jewish community, another significant goal, will also require centrist restraint.
“Hard core people of the right, we have the evidence, become more centrist in office,” Ms. Hermann said.
Yair Lapid, 57, a leading architect of the coalition, would become prime minister in two years under the deal that made an alternative to Mr. Netanyahu possible — another incentive for him to help make the government work.
Still, it may not. The parties, ranging from Mr. Bennett’s Yamina party on the right to Labor and Meretz on the left, disagree on everything from L.G.B.T.Q. rights to public transport on Shabbat.
Among measures the government has agreed on is legislation that would set a two-term limit for a prime minister and oblige anyone who has led the country for eight years to spend four years out of the Knesset. In effect, this would preclude any Netanyahu redux.
The prospective government will also pursue legislation designed to make changing Israel’s Basic Law — containing much of its fundamental legal framework — more difficult. Mr. Netanyahu, who had been indicted on fraud and other charges, had eyed curtailing the powers of the Supreme Court and securing immunity from prosecution as prime minister.
The agreement on the coalition that ousted Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister after a dozen years in power includes an independent Arab party in the government for the first time, blowing up fault lines in Israeli politics and opening a potential new era.
With Parliament’s backing of the eight-party coalition on Sunday comes the tantalizing possibility that Palestinian citizens of Israel, who account for about a fifth of the population, might play a more active role in politics, to unifying effect.
The decision by a small Arab party known by its Hebrew acronym, Raam, to join the government so soon after last month’s violent clashes between Jewish and Arab mobs in Israel last month reflected a growing realization that the marginalization of Arab parties brings only paralysis and repetitive elections. It also suggested a desire among some Palestinian citizens of Israel to exert more political influence.
Fakhira Halloun, an expert in conflict resolution, said: “Usually the dominant discourse is one of perceiving Palestinians inside Israel as an internal enemy. We need to change this perception by not being always in the opposition.”
Certainly, Raam, with four seats in Parliament, will be critical to the survival of the coalition, even if it will not hold any cabinet posts. The coalition will have to consider the interests of the Palestinian minority in a different way.
Practically, Raam’s leader, Mansour Abbas, is likely to press for increased spending for Arab communities, who lag Israel’s Jewish population in the quality of schools, sports facilities and infrastructure. They also suffer from denial of access to land. Revocation of the so-called Kaminitz Law, which disproportionately penalizes unlicensed construction in Arab communities, has been discussed.
“I do not think that the two-state solution or reconciliation with the Palestinians will be achieved in the coming year or two,” said Jafar Farah, the director of the Mossawa Center, an advocacy group for Arab citizens of Israel. “But I do think that it is an opportunity for the Palestinian community in Israel to become a game changer.”
After 12 years with Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, young Israelis and Palestinians — who can barely remember his predecessor — expressed in interviews before Sunday’s vote a wide range of reactions to the possibility of a future without Mr. Netanyahu at the helm.
“Wow,” said Gil Maymon, a Ph.D. candidate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, barely concealing her excitement. “We started to think he would never leave, but now it’s finally happening.”
But Ms. Maymon, 30, expressed some reservations about the politician taking Mr. Netanyahu’s place: Naftali Bennett, the leader of the hard-right Yamina party, who strongly supports settlement building.
“Sometimes you don’t get everything you want,” she said.
Young supporters of Mr. Netanyahu, however, said they were not only shocked, but bitter, at the prospect of his exit.
Nathan Moatti, 27, an education student, said he was furious at Mr. Bennett — a former chief of staff to Mr. Netanyahu — for unseating the prime minister. “I feel betrayed,” Mr. Moatti said.
“I very much love and appreciate Netanyahu,” said Mr. Moatti, 27, who lives about 150 feet from the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. “He has transformed our economy, defended us against Iran and stood up for our country around the world.”
The government that was inaugurated on Sunday is made up of right-wing, left-wing and centrist political parties, as well as the first independent Arab party to join a coalition in Israel’s history.
But many Palestinians in the occupied West Bank said they doubted that a new prime minister would bring dramatic changes in their lives.
“The same system and strategy — the restrictions on movement, the checkpoints and the wall — will stay,” said Bahaa Nairoukh, 30 an accountant in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, in the West Bank. “It’s hard to imagine anything different because occupation is all I’ve known my whole life.”
Mohammed Wawi, an Arab citizen of Israel, also did not expect a transformation. “It’s true he incited against the Arab community,” he said of Mr. Netanyahu, “but Bennett has also made comments against us.”
Mr. Wawi, 29, a physical therapist from Nazareth, said that while the Arab party that joined the coalition may be able to extract additional money in the budget for Arab towns, it was unlikely to be able to make changes to the nation-state law — legislation passed in 2018 that formally declared Israel to be the nation-state of Jewish people only.
Some on the right praised Mr. Netanyahu, but said that the only way Israel could overcome its political deadlock, after four elections in two years, was for him to leave office.
“The country got stuck,” said Alon Saperia, 30, an industrial engineer who lives in the long-disputed Golan Heights. “The unfortunate reality is he had to go.”
Parliament selected Mickey Levy, a lawmaker from Yair Lapid’s centrist party, Yesh Atid, to be its new speaker on Sunday afternoon.
Mr. Levy’s election was considered a sign that the new government would likely pass the vote of confidence. He beat out Yaakov Margi, an ultra-Orthodox politician who is part of Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition.
Mr. Levy, 69, is a former police officer who commanded police units in Jerusalem during the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, in the early 2000s. He later served as a police attaché at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, according to his biography on the Parliament website, and then ran a bus company.
After entering politics with Yesh Atid in 2013, he was deputy finance minister for nearly two years, overseeing the tax authority and serving under Mr. Lapid.
As speaker, Mr. Levy will exert considerable influence over parliamentary procedure, giving his government greater influence over the passage of legislation.
When Yair Lapid was a rising newspaper columnist in the late 1990s, his editor, Ron Maiberg, found him a pleasant but self-centered and often intransigent man who regularly failed to cede ground in an argument.
“He would argue with you to death,” said Mr. Maiberg, then a senior editor at Maariv, a centrist newspaper. “Instead of admitting that Raymond Chandler wrote maybe seven novels and not nine or 10 — he would include the short stories to explain his counting.”
More than two decades later, Mr. Lapid, 57, is a man transformed, colleagues and analysts say. Now a leading centrist politician, he is considered gracious and conciliatory. And it is partly because of that transformation that Israel now stands on the cusp of one of the most significant moments in its recent political history.
On Sunday, Israeli lawmakers voted in a new government that replaces Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving leader, as prime minister. The new coalition is a fragile alliance formed from eight ideologically diffuse parties that are united only by their shared dislike of Mr. Netanyahu. If it holds, it will be largely because Mr. Lapid coaxed the unlikely alliance into existence over months of phone calls and meetings with faction leaders.
To cement the deal, Mr. Lapid has even allowed Naftali Bennett, a right-wing former settler leader who wavered over joining forces with centrists, leftists and Arabs, to go first as prime minister — even though Mr. Bennett’s party won 10 fewer seats than Mr. Lapid’s.
In a compromise, Mr. Lapid will take over as prime minister in 2023. But while Mr. Bennett takes the stage first, he does so only because Mr. Lapid vacated the limelight for him.
For former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel witnessed “the greatest election fraud in the history of the country.” For former President Donald J. Trump, defeat last November was “the crime of the century.” The two men’s language overlaps, it seems, because their overwhelming sense of invincibility is confounded by democratic process.
Even as Naftali Bennett, a right-wing nationalist, took office as prime minister Sunday as a leader of a diverse coalition, Mr. Netanyahu’s raging assault on his successor did not abate, describing what had befallen his own 12-year-long tenure as a “deep state” conspiracy.
Mr. Netanyahu accused Mr. Bennett of having conducted a “fire sale on the country.” A “government of capitulation” will now run Israel after a “stolen” election, he said. Mr. Netanyahu disparaged media coverage of his frustrated attempt to retain power as “total fascism.”
In the run-up to the transfer of power on Sunday, doubts had persisted over whether it would be peaceful.
Attacks by Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party on Mr. Bennett’s small Yamina party were so vicious last week that some Yamina politicians needed security details. And Mr. Netanyahu’s whatever-it-takes tactics left the lingering whiff of potential violence, reminiscent of the Trump-incited mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol in January over Mr. Trump’s unfounded claims that he had been robbed of victory.
But Israel, unlike the United States, is a parliamentary rather than a presidential democracy. Mr. Netanyahu will not disappear to some sunny retreat beside a golf course. As chairman of Likud, he will wield considerable power.
“He is not going away, and he will not be quiet,” said Merav Michaeli, the leader of the Labor Party, a member of the new coalition. “And it will take a long time to repair the damage.”
The heterogeneous coalition that ended the 12-year-long tenure of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister augurs a stunning loss of the power that has long been wielded by Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Still reeling from the worst effects of the country’s coronavirus pandemic, then a deadly stampede at a religious festival, by Sunday’s end the ultra-Orthodox have no role in the new government. It is one of the most striking shifts, and could lead to a relaxation on some of the strictures on life in Israel.
The ultra-Orthodox are known as Haredim, a Hebrew term for those who tremble before God. Their political representatives have sat in most, though not all, governments of Israel since the late 1970s, when the right-wing Likud party upended decades of political hegemony by the state’s socialist founders.
Mr. Netanyahu forged a tight alliance with the two main Haredi parties, which were critical components in his coalitions.
That alliance had given the Haredi parties what many critics saw as disproportionate power over state policy. Their power was punctuated by the successful Haredi defiance of national pandemic restrictions.
The influence and official privileges of the ultra-Orthodox, who make up about 13 percent of the population, have created resentment among mainstream Israelis and alienated many Jews abroad who practice less stringent forms of Judaism. The ultra-Orthodox-run Chief Rabbinate, the state religious authority, dominates official Jewish marriage, divorce and religious conversions and does not recognize the legitimacy of Reform or Conservative rabbis.
Haredi politicians promote a conservative social agenda that opposes civil marriage, gay rights, and work or public transportation on the Sabbath, often blocking a civil rights agenda held dear by many members of the new coalition. They support an independent education system that focuses on religious studies and largely shuns secular education for boys.
The Haredi parties have also secured generous state funding for their people and institutions, enabling many to engage in extended Torah study and avoid the military service that is compulsory for others.
Haredi rabbis have been sounding the alarm over their political setback since the news of the coalition deal first emerged.
“Fear and vigilance among Haredi Jewry,” declared HaMevaser, a daily paper representing the Hasidic wing of one of the ultra-Orthodox parties, United Torah Judaism, in a red banner headline last week.
For decades, dozens of Bedouin villages in Israel’s Negev desert have been in limbo. Without the state’s recognition of their communities, they have long suffered from a lack of planning and basic services like running water, sewers, electricity, trash collection and paved roads.
But the Israeli coalition government approved on Sunday intends to take significant strides to address the plight of these villages, according to Raam, an Arab party that agreed to join the coalition on a number of conditions, including that more benefits are provided to the Bedouin.
The new government will recognize Khasham Zana and two other villages in the Negev in the first 45 days of its term, Raam said in a statement last week, and it will prepare a plan to deal with other unrecognized villages in the area within its first nine months in power.
Still, such plans are unlikely to bring quick change to the ramshackle communities, said Eli Atzmon, an Israeli expert on the Bedouin, who are part of Israel’s Arab minority. Few of the villages recognized by Israel in recent decades have seen drastic improvements to their livelihoods, he said.
There is also no guarantee that a new initiative to address inequities between the southern Bedouin and other parts of Israeli society will be more successful than previous attempts. In December, the government appeared poised to recognize the village of Khasham Zana and two others, Rukhma and Abda, but the effort stalled because of political infighting.
Some right-wing members of the new government, which includes a diverse set of political parties, have suggested they would not accept efforts to recognize many villages in the Negev. That raises questions about whether the new government will be able to muster enough support to make such moves.
The Bedouin, who say they have lived in the Negev for centuries, were once a seminomadic group. But in the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, most were forced out of the desert or fled to other parts of the region.
The Israeli authorities concentrated those who stayed in a smaller area of the desert, and later built meager townships for them. Today there are roughly 280,000 Bedouin in the Negev, about half of them under 18.
The vote to oust Mr. Netanyahu may change more than Israel’s leadership. It could also ultimately affect who leads Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party.
Mr. Netanyahu has led the party for all but six of the last 28 years — 15 of which he has spent as prime minister. In a phone interview before Sunday’s vote, Aaron Klein, a senior adviser to Mr. Netanyahu, confirmed that even if he lost his position as prime minister, he intends to continue as leader of the opposition.
But his rivals may not go along with that.
Once Mr. Netanyahu leaves government office, his authority over rivals for the party leadership will diminish because he can no longer promote party allies to coveted ministerial positions, or demote rivals. That will give greater momentum to internal critics who feel the party could have remained in office had Mr. Netanyahu stepped down from the leadership earlier and allowed a colleague to take over.
Three rival right-wing parties might have joined forces with Likud, giving the party a majority in Parliament, had Mr. Netanyahu not been in charge. The three parties were all led by former Likud members who were either former aides or allies of the prime minister, but who fell out with him personally.
Leadership of the party, which has governed Israel for 32 of the past 44 years, is seen as one of the country’s most prestigious roles.
But to oust Mr. Netanyahu from the party leadership, his rivals would have to defeat him in an internal primary in which the 120,000 Likud members would have the final say.
Possible challengers include Yuli Edelstein, the health minister; Nir Barkat, a former mayor of Jerusalem; Israel Katz, the finance minister; and Danny Danon, chairman of Likud’s international branch. Recent polls have suggested that Yossi Cohen, who was until earlier this month the director of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, would be the most popular candidate among Likud members.
In recent days, Israeli news outlets, citing anonymous sources, have written that Mr. Edelstein plans to run against Mr. Netanyahu, a claim Mr. Edelstein has not denied. Mr. Barkat held a rally in Tel Aviv on Thursday, nominally to discuss political policy. But commentators interpreted it as a thinly veiled statement of his leadership ambitions.
The likelihood of a challenge to Mr. Netanyahu depends on how long party colleagues expect the new government to stay in office, said Mr. Danon, who has not yet decided whether he will mount his own leadership bid.
“Within the Likud, people will look at the government to see if it’s functioning or not functioning,” Mr. Danon said. “If the feeling will be that it’s not going to last, I think his position will be stronger. But if they will actually be able to work together and to survive, I think it will be more challenging.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, spent what might be his last minutes in power by defending his record, promising to remain in politics as leader of the opposition, and denouncing his nominated successor, Naftali Bennett.
At a parliamentary debate ahead of the vote to approve Mr. Bennett’s government, Mr. Netanyahu gave what felt like a valedictory speech, listing what he perceived to be his accomplishments in office.
He noted his efforts to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power and lauded four diplomatic agreements with Arab countries, completed during his tenure, that upended assumptions that Israel would only shore up relations with the Arab world after it had sealed peace with the Palestinians. He also highlighted several favorable moves by the Trump administration that he championed, including American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the installation of an American Embassy in the city.
“Our successes turned Israel from a fringe state to a leading power,” Mr. Netanyahu said. Then he warned of the harm that he believes a Bennett-led government poses to Israel, and railed against legislation, proposed by the new government, that would limit the ability of prime ministers to remain in office after eight years in power, as he did.
“If we have to be in opposition, we will do this standing tall — until we bring down this dangerous government and return to lead the state,” Mr. Netanyahu said.
Mr. Bennett is a former aide to Mr. Netanyahu who is considered even further to his right. A former software entrepreneur and settler leader, Mr. Bennett is a longtime opponent of Palestinian sovereignty.
After months of wavering, Mr. Bennett broke with Mr. Netanyahu late last month, allying with an unlikely alliance of hard-right, centrist, far-left and Arab lawmakers who are united only by a shared dislike of Mr. Netanyahu. Mr. Bennett said it was necessary to form a government of national unity in order to end a political deadlock that has left the country without a budget and forced the country through four inconclusive elections in just two years.
Mr. Netanyahu and his allies have framed that decision as an act of treachery, leading several of them to heckle and disrupt Mr. Bennett during his own speech earlier in the afternoon. By contrast, lawmakers largely kept quiet while Mr. Netanyahu spoke, in a sign of respect.
“The right will not forget Bennett’s deception,” Mr. Netanyahu said during his speech. “You call yourself guardians of the democracy, but you are so fearful of democracy that you are willing to legislate fascist laws so I can’t run.”
He then addressed his supporters.
“I say today: Do not let your spirits fall,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “I will lead you in a daily battle against this bad and dangerous left-wing government, and bring it down. And with the help of God, this will happen faster than you think.”
Israel’s Parliament broke into pandemonium on Sunday afternoon when allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shouted abuse during a speech by the politician nominated to replace him, Naftali Bennett.
Mr. Bennett, a former aide to the prime minister who later became his rival, began his speech on Sunday afternoon with a conciliatory gesture to Mr. Netanyahu.
“Thank you to the outgoing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for your many years of service, replete with achievements, for the sake of the State of Israel,” Mr. Bennett said. “As prime minister, you acted throughout many years to embolden Israel’s political, security, and economic strength.”
Mr. Bennett added: “Expressing gratitude is a fundamental principle in Judaism. This is the time for the people to say to you: Thank you.”
But he was quickly interrupted and heckled by right-wing opponents. They view Mr. Bennett, a right-wing former settler leader who opposes Palestinian statehood, as a traitor for breaking with Mr. Netanyahu and allying with a coalition that includes leftist and Arab lawmakers.
At least four lawmakers were thrown out of the session by the speaker, Yariv Levin, while a fifth walked out voluntarily.
“You should be embarrassed,” shouted David Amsalem, a lawmaker from Mr. Netanyahu’s party, Likud.
Despite the frequent interruptions, Mr. Bennett nevertheless continued his speech — and used the heckling to help illustrate why he had made the decision to end Israel’s two-year political deadlock by joining a government of national unity, instead of sticking with Mr. Netanyahu.
“There are points in Jewish history where disagreements got out of control,” he said. “Twice in history we lost our national home exactly because the leaders of that generation were unable to sit together and compromise.”
“I am proud of the ability to sit together with people from different sectors,” he added later. “We stopped the train before the abyss.”
After Mr. Bennett’s speech, his designated deputy, Yair Lapid, a centrist former journalist, unexpectedly renounced his right to make his own full statement. Mr. Lapid stated only that his mother, Shulamit — a renowned author who was born before the state of Israel existed — was ashamed of Mr. Netanyahu and his allies for their lack of statesmanship.
That left the rostrum free for Mr. Netanyahu himself.
Mr. Bennett’s coalition is an ideologically diffuse alliance that includes the far-left, the hard-right and a small Arab party, and is united only by a shared desire to force Mr. Netanyahu from office. It was expected to win the vote by only a narrow margin.
To keep the coalition united, Mr. Bennett said on Sunday, it would focus on economic and infrastructure projects instead of controversial issues, such as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on which the coalition’s members do not agree.
“We will sit together and what we agree on we will run forward with, and what we don’t agree on, we will leave aside for now,” Mr. Bennett said.
“The new government aims for practical solutions to the country’s real problems,” he added.
He also promised to maintain Mr. Netanyahu’s stance on American-led efforts to revive an Obama-era Iran nuclear deal, which faces broad opposition in Israel.
“The renewal of the nuclear agreement is a mistake,” he said. “Israel will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and will maintain full freedom of action.”