Israel Could See New Government if Confidence Vote Passes
TEL AVIV—A new Israeli government is set to be sworn in later Sunday if a coalition of Prime Minister
opponents passes a confidence vote in parliament, which would bring an end to the leader’s 12-year run in power as the country faces a sluggish economy and security challenges from Hamas.
of the right-wing Yamina party will be prime minister if the new, wide-ranging coalition passes the final hurdle. It is made up of parties from across the political spectrum, including an independent Arab party for the first time in Israel’s history. Mr. Bennett and his partners put together their alliance after Mr. Netanyahu failed to cobble his own coalition following national elections in March.
Mr. Bennett’s eight-party coalition has the backing of 61 lawmakers in the 120-member Knesset and is expected to pass the confidence vote by a simple majority.
If the vote passes, Mr. Bennett would take power at a pivotal moment in the country’s history. Four inconclusive elections since 2019 have left Israel deeply polarized. Now, Israeli politicians must try to mend those rifts even as they confront divisive issues ranging from settlement construction and empowering the country’s Arab citizens to state assistance for ultra-Orthodox Jews.
More immediately, the government needs to take steps to boost the economy after several lockdowns last year to contain the spread of Covid-19 while also negotiating a longer-term truce deal with Gaza ruler Hamas after the two sides fought a deadly 11-day conflict in May.
The new government would also inherit a series of foreign-policy challenges. Israel is engaged in a complex battle with Iran’s military proxies in Syria and elsewhere in the region and is also trying to contain Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. The government will also face an unstable and combustible period in Palestinian politics, as well as a softening of bipartisan support in Washington.
The breadth of the challenges could strain the ties that bind Mr. Bennett’s government-in-waiting.
“The main challenge will be to hold on,” said
a senior fellow at the Jerusalem-based think tank the Israel Democracy Institute. “This is the most heterogeneous government in the history of Israel.”
Speaking in parliament ahead of the confidence vote, Mr. Bennett said one of his government’s priorities would be to strengthen bipartisan support for Israel in Washington.
But in an early sign of what could become a contentious issue in Israel’s fractious politics, Mr. Bennett also said he would continue Mr. Netanyahu’s opposition to the U.S.’s return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. “Israel is not party to the agreement and will continue to preserve its freedom of action,” Mr. Bennett said.
His speech was interrupted throughout by shouts of “liar” and “fraud” by lawmakers from Mr. Netanyahu’s camp, with many being ejected from the plenum by the speaker.
Mr. Netanyahu, who spoke after Mr. Bennett, also lashed out at Mr. Bennett, saying he wouldn’t be able to protect Israel’s interests. “The prime minister of Israel must be able to say no to the president of the United States in issues that threaten our existence,” he said.
Mr. Netanyahu, who in recent years made Iran the country’s top security priority, has opposed the Biden administration’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
He said he would fight hard as opposition leader to quickly topple the new government and return to power. “With god’s help it will be much sooner than you think,” Mr. Netanyahu told his fellow lawmakers, some of whom broke out in applause.
The embattled leader, flanked by a group of guards and aides, was one of the last lawmakers to arrive at the plenum before the prevote speeches began. “When will you leave Balfour?” reporters shouted, referring to the street where the Prime Minister’s official residence is located.
The disparate parties in the coalition are united in their opposition to Mr. Netanyahu. They accuse Israel’s longest-serving prime minister of putting his personal interests before the country. Mr. Netanyahu is currently battling corruption charges in court. He denies any wrongdoing.
The different parties have deep ideological differences. They said they wouldn’t attempt to solve major pre-existing issues but would focus instead on improving the everyday lives of Israeli citizens.
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The new coalition published Friday the terms of its agreements, which show it would focus primarily on rejuvenating the ailing health, transportation and education systems of the country and bringing down the cost of living. The eight parties also agreed to pass a law limiting prime ministers to two terms or eight years. It isn’t clear if the legislation would be retroactive, and whether it would prevent Mr. Netanyahu from running again for the office.
of the centrist Yesh Atid party received the mandate to form a government last month after Mr. Netanyahu failed to do so. Mr. Lapid agreed to a partnership with Mr. Bennett in which the latter would become prime minister first for two years, followed by Mr. Lapid.
The coalition agreements divide power equally among the right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties, giving each bloc a veto. Additionally, Messrs. Bennett and Lapid won’t be able to fire ministers from each other’s blocs.
Mr. Bennett’s party controls seven seats in the Knesset compared with Mr. Lapid’s 17. But right-wing Jewish Israelis who previously supported Mr. Netanyahu’s governments might find him a more politically palatable candidate as prime minister.
The new coalition includes two other right-wing parties, New Hope and Yisrael Beiteinu, as well as the left-wing Labor and Meretz, the centrist Blue and White and the Islamist party Ra’am.
—Felicia Schwartz contributed to this article.
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