Israel parliament approves new coalition government, ending Netanyahu's 12-year rule

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud MK Nir Barkat present the Likud economic plan during a Likud party event in Tel Aviv

Netanyahu's supporters have interrupted virtually all of Bennett's sentences as they accuse him of betraying them.

Netanyahu, the most dominant Israeli politician of his generation, failed to form a government after Israel's March 23 election, its fourth in two years.

The diverse anti-Netanyahu bloc was cobbled together by the secular centrist Yair Lapid, a former TV presenter. They are likely to pursue a modest agenda that seeks to reduce tensions with the Palestinians and maintain good relations with the US without launching any major initiatives.

Sunday’s crucial Knesset session is due to open at 4:00 pm local time (1300 GMT), with Bennett, Lapid and Netanyahu all set to speak before the vote. After its ratification, the new cabinet will be sworn in.

Beloved as "King Bibi" by his right-wing supporters and condemned as the "crime minister" by his critics, the hawkish and combative Netanyahu has always been the dominant, and increasingly divisive, figure in Israeli politics.

Naftali Bennett, the leader of the right-wing Yamina party, will take the helm as Israel's next prime minister if his coalition secures a majority, sending Mr Netanyahu to the opposition benches.

"If it is destined for us to be in the opposition, we will do it with our backs straight until we topple this unsafe government and return to lead the country in our way", Netanyahu said. The U.S.is calling for reconstruction in Gaza after it was pummeled by Israel in last month's 11-day conflict with Hamas, fighting that spilled over into violence between Jews and Arabs in Israeli cities. Biden predecessor Donald Trump left the deal, but Biden wants to return to it.

Bennett's 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 be a party to the agreement and will continue to preserve full freedom of action".

"We will work together, out of partnership and national responsibility - and I believe we will succeed", Bennett, a former defence minister under Netanyahu, said Friday. He also thanked Biden for his support for Israel, stressed that he wants good relations with both parties in Washington, and drew a contrast with Netanyahu by promising that any disagreements with Biden will be managed with "mutual trust and respect". By contrast, Netanyahu's Likud party won 30 seats in March's election.

"Israel will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons", Bennett said, vowing to maintain Netanyahu's confrontational policy.

On the global stage, with his polished English and booming baritone voice, the telegenic Netanyahu has become the face of Israel. Serving in his first term as prime minister in the 1990s and since 2009 winning four more terms in succession, he has been a polarising figure, both overseas and at home.

Beloved as "King Bibi" and "Mr. Security" by his right-wing supporters and condemned as the "crime minister" by his critics, Mr. Netanyahu has always been the dominant figure in Israeli politics.

If Netanyahu loses the premiership, he will not be able to push through changes to basic laws that could give him immunity in regard to his corruption trial.

His opponents have long reviled what they see as Netanyahu's divisive rhetoric, underhanded political tactics and subjection of state interests to his political survival. Some have dubbed him "Crime Minister" and have accused him of mishandling the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout.

Bennett has drawn anger from within the right-wing camp for breaking a campaign pledge by joining forces with Lapid.

He has called the coalition "the greatest election fraud in the history" of Israel.

The president added that his administration "is fully committed to working with the new Israeli government to advance security, stability, and peace for Israelis, Palestinians, and people throughout the broader region".

The new Bennett coalition would face considerable diplomatic, security and financial challenges.

Bennett listed as priorities reforms in education, health, cutting red tape to grow businesses and lower housing costs.

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