The 12-year long term of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister came to an end on 13th June 2021, after his rival politicians formed up a coalition under the leadership of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid.
Naftali Benett, a right-wing nationalist leader, became the 13th Prime Minister of Israel on Sunday when the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) voted 60-59 to approve the new coalition government, ending Netanyahu’s 12-year rule as Prime Minister. Naftali’s term as a PM would be of 2 years, after which Yair Lapid will take over as Prime Minister for the remaining 2 years, as per the agreement between the coalition parties. Meanwhile, Netanyahu will remain the head of the right-wing Likud party and become the leader of the opposition.
What brought an end to Netanyahu’s Era as a PM?
Benjamin Netanyahu is arguably Israel’s most popular political leader in modern times. He served five terms, first from 1996 to 1999, then continuously from 2009 to 2021. But, in the last three back to back elections in Israel, from 2019 to 2021, Netanyahu failed to gain a majority. Further, he couldn’t gather support to form a coalition government, in the first two rounds of elections. Meanwhile, opposition foothold had grown, not just among the left and centre but also among right-wing parties that are ordinarily ideologically aligned to the Likud Party, including Yamina.
After the 3rd round of elections, Netanyahu had formed a government of national unity, in agreement with then-opposition leader Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party, but the deal collapsed and Israel went back to the polls in March 2021. Further, after the 4th round of polls, Netanyahu’s Likud party came out as the single largest party, but once again, he wasn’t able to form a coalition. As a result, Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid got a chance to form a coalition of eight different parties, and successfully make a government, bringing an end to Netanyahu’s term. Yamina which was seen as an ally of Netanyahu, came together with Yair Lapid after weeks of negotiations, and soon became a part of a coalition united only to remove Mr Netanyahu from office.
Who is Naftali Benett – The New PM of Israel?
Born in Haifa in 1972, the Prime Minister of the 36th government of Israel, Naftali Bennett is the son of American Jewish immigrants from California. He has served as a company commander in the elite Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Sayeret Matkal and Maglan units before studying law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has also worked in the private sector for some years, before making his entry into Israel’s politics in 2008-2009. Since then, he has been a part of the political spectrum of Israel and has held important positions in the previous governments. He served as Economy Minister, Religious Affairs minister and Diaspora Affairs minister in the 19th Knesset. After the elections in 2015, he was given the charge of the Education Ministry in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
Bennett used the Education Ministry to cultivate a post-sectarian identity. He launched a flagship program to encourage high-school students to major in math and physics, arguing how important it was for Israel and how the education system was the engine for the nation’s hi-tech industry.
Relations between Netanyahu and Benett became problematic last year when Benny Gantz established a unity government with Netanyahu in May 2020. Bennett refused to join and disagreed to be a part of the new arrangement between Gantz and Netanyahu. He then took Yamina to the opposition, where he made a sharp turn against Netanyahu and began calling for the longtime prime minister to step down. He went on to the March 2021 elections without declaring his alignment to anyone, where his party secured 7 seats. Following this, Bennett announced that he would serve as the Prime Minister in a broad unity government until August 2023, at which point Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid would take over.
It is expected that Benett would have a lot to manage during the 2 years of his tenure as the PM. It would be hard for him to strike a balance between the eight parties that are a part of the new government, with all of them having separate ideologies and very little in common.