State of Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been ousted from office by a coalition of opposition parties effectively ending his 12 years at the helm of leadership.
The opposition leader, Yair Lapid, a centrist former TV news anchor, won a confidence vote in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, by a razor-thin advantage of 60-59 seats on Sunday evening.
Lapid will not initially become prime minister. Instead, under a power-sharing agreement, his former foe and far-right advocate for the settler movement in the Palestinian territories, Naftali Bennett, was sworn in as the country’s leader.
Bennett, who has ruled out a Palestinian state and wants Israel to maintain ultimate control over all the lands it occupies, will be prime minister for the first two years of a four-year term before handing over to Lapid.
The self-described “government of change” is a mix of ideologically opposed politicians from hardline Jewish religious nationalists to a small Arab Islamist party.
Ahead of the Knesset vote, Bennett attempted to give a conciliatory speech, even as Netanyahu’s allies heckled him from their seats. The 49-year-old prime minister-designate thanked the outgoing leader for his “lengthy and achievement filled service”.
Speaking after Bennett, Netanyahu struck a different tone, first boasting that he had transformed Israel “from a marginal country to a rising force” and then slamming Bennett as weak in comparison.
Netanyahu said he would work in the opposition to “topple this dangerous government” and return to power.
Hours later, after the vote had passed, Netanyahu, wearing a black face mask, stood up from his seat and shook Bennett’s hand to congratulate him. Then the outgoing prime minister walked across the room to an area designated for the opposition, where he will now be required to sit.
Installing the new administration breaks a political deadlock that has seen four snap elections since 2019. During that time, Netanyahu, who is famed for his political skills, managed to keep his rivals bickering and divided while he clung to power, even after he was indicted in three criminal corruption cases on charges he denies.
However, in the process the 71-year-old isolated allies on the right, including Bennett, who was Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and served in his governments.
Sever Plocker, a columnist for Israel’s leading daily newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, wrote that Netanyahu was ultimately responsible for his own downfall.
“Over the past few years, he became his own greatest enemy: his egocentrism, his personal and public paranoia, his avarice, his ongoing incitement and his hubris unified the opposition to him from across the political spectrum to the point that they joined forces to successfully bring him down.”
Anti-Netanyahu protesters, who have held rallies outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem for months calling for his ousting, gathered again on Saturday night to celebrate. A black banner stretched across a wall read: “Bye Bye, Bibi, Bye bye.”
And yesterday night, after the new government was voted in, thousands of Israelis waving the blue and white flag cheered and danced in central Tel Aviv.