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Israel votes on new government as Netanyahu poised to lose power

·3 min read
Leader of the Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid  (EPA)
Leader of the Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid (EPA)

Israel is set to vote in a new coalition government on Sunday, notably without Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm, and end a political crisis that has seen four general elections take place in two years.

Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid’s new government is set to be voted on by the Knesset, and if a majority - 61 votes or more - are given to the new coalition, Israel will have a new administration and for the first time in 12 years a new prime minister.

In last minute drama, Hebrew media Channel 12 report that a member of the Knesset from Mansour Abbas’s Israeli- Arab party is threatening not to vote for the new government, protesting the intention to demolish houses in the Negev. However, as long as there are no other last minute surprises the coalition is expected to receive a slim majority of votes.

If a majority passes, Naftali Bennett, the former defence minister and right wing leader of the Yamina party will take the first two year term as prime minister, followed by a second term by Yair Lapid, the centrist leader of party Yesh Atid - if the coalition lasts that long.

All the major party leaders made speeches in the Knesset on Sunday, and the country’s deep political divisions were on display.

Mr Bennett was repeatedly interrupted and loudly heckled by supporters of Mr Netanyahu, several of whom were escorted out of the chamber.

His speech mostly dwelled on domestic issues, but he expressed opposition to US efforts to revive Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

“Israel will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” Bennett said, vowing to maintain Netanyahu’s confrontational policy. “Israel will not be a party to the agreement and will continue to preserve full freedom of action.”

Mr Netanyahu, speaking after him, vowed to return to power. He predicted the incoming government would be weak on Iran and give in to US demands to make concessions to the Palestinians.

“If it is destined for us to be in the opposition, we will do it with our backs straight until we topple this dangerous government and return to lead the country in our way,” he said.

Mr Lapid called off a planned speech to parliament, instead saying he was ashamed that his 86-year-old mother had to witness the raucous behavior of his opponents.

In a brief speech, he asked for “forgiveness from my mother”.

“I wanted her to be proud of the democratic process in Israel. Instead she, along with every citizen of Israel, is ashamed of you and remembers clearly why it’s time to replace you,” he said.

Israeli far right wing Leader of the Jewish home party, Itamar Ben Gvir escorted out by security as he protests during the speech of designated prime minister Naftali Bennett (EPA)
Israeli far right wing Leader of the Jewish home party, Itamar Ben Gvir escorted out by security as he protests during the speech of designated prime minister Naftali Bennett (EPA)

The new government plans to hold its first official meeting later on Sunday but it is unclear if Mr Netanyahu will move out of the official residence.

He has lashed out at the new government in apocalyptic terms and accused Mr Bennett of defrauding voters by running as a right-wing stalwart and then partnering with the left. Mr Netanyahu’s supporters have held angry protests outside the homes of rival politicians, who say they have received death threats naming their family members.

Coalition parties in the new government are expected to place domestic issues and the economic recovery post-Covid 19, above issues surrounding the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

Sources close to the coalition told The Independent this was due to "on the one hand the lack of a partner on the Palestinian side and the other significant disparity in approaches to the issues within the incoming coalition”.

The new government is regarded as the widest political coalition in the history of Israel, incorporating the Israeli-Arab party Ra’am under Mansour Abbas, as well as seven other parties from left to right wing.

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