After 12 years at the helm of America’s closest ally in the Middle East, rival politicians in Israel have formed a new government to remove the longtime Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  He was removed from power on Sunday after the Israeli Knesset voted to form a new coalition government by a narrow 60-59 vote.  He was replaced by Naftali Bennett of the New Right party.

Israel was forced to hold four elections in just two years after attempts to form a coalition government repeatedly failed with Netanyahu in charge.  This latest narrow victory results in Naftali Bennett leading a government comprised of a diverse array of eight different parties.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, a former TV news anchor, put together a coalition with Naftali Bennett, a former settler leader and hard-right religious nationalist who has called for the annexation of most of the occupied West Bank. 
Bennett’s coalition spans the entirety of the Israeli political spectrum, including his New Right party alongside centrist and left-wing factions in the Knesset.  An Arab party, Raam, helped put Bennet’s coalition over the top.  The agreementmarks the first time an Arab-led party has joined forces in a governing coalition with Israel’s right-wing.
Netanyahu will become the parliament’s opposition leader as head of the Likud party.  Netanyahu vowed to return to power in a speech he gave to parliament ahead of the vote, and accused the incoming government of being weak on Iran and Palestinians.

Currently on trial for corruption, Netanyahu was Israel’s most right-wing prime minister to date, and the first Israel-born politician to become leader.  He will now have to face an ongoing trial for corruption charges without the power of the premiership. His Likud party remains the biggest in the Knesset and could quickly return to power if the fragile Bennett coalition cracks.

As a leader of the opposition, Netanyahu had made it clear he will do all he can, as quickly as he can, to bring down the shaky coalition that Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid have cobbled together.  One way for him to do so is to encourage the new illegal settlement construction.  The Islamist Raam party that is part of the government coalition will certainly push for demolishing any of these outposts.  The left-win Meretz party and Lapid’s Yesh Atid party will support Raam.  The right-wing parties in the coalition, notably Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, as well as Bennett’s own Yamina supporters, can be expected to support the Settlers.  Bennett could get caught in the middle and the government falls.

Donald Trump’s elections as U.S. president in 2016 was welcomed by Netanyahu after a rocky eight years in U.S.-Israel relations with Barack Obama in the White House. A meeting in early 2017 was intended to signal a reset in relations between the two sides.  

Later that year, Trump broke with decades of U.S. policy and announced that the U.S. formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would begin the process of moving its embassy to the city.  Netanyahu welcomed the decision, and said it was a “historic day” for Israel.

A delay in Joe Biden’s first phone call to Netanyahu after taking office drew speculation the U.S. president was signaling displeasure with Netanyahu’s close ties with Trump.   

But the 11-day Israeli assault on Gaza brought the two leaders together as Biden showed strong support for Netanyahu and his policies during the latest bombing campaign on the besieged enclave that killed more than 250 Palestinians, including at least 66 children.

Bennet’s speech to parliament Sunday focused on domestic issues but expressed opposition to U.S. attempts to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal, a key priority of President Joe Biden’s foreign policy.  Bennett said, “Israel will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons.  Israel will not be a party to the agreement and will continue to preserve full freedom of action.”

 Biden released a statement Sunday congratulating Bennett, and said, “I am looking forward to strengthening all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between the U.S. and Israel.

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