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  • Victoria Cornelio

Who is the new Prime Minister of Israel?

Updated: Dec 2, 2021

After 12 years, Benjamin Netanyahu has lost his seat as Prime Minister of Israel to Naftali Bennet and his coalition. The question of whether Mr. Bennet won the elections or Netanyahu lost them has been debated in the media, as many say Netanyahu was voted out of office while other outlets say Bennet was elected with a vote of confidence, with a 60 to 59 win.

Who is Naftali Bennet?

Naftali Bennet, Israel’s new prime minister for the next two years, was born to American parents in Haifa, Israel. He served as a commando in the Israeli military and in the same special forces’ unit as his predecessor, Netanyahu. He founded a tech-company at age 35 which developed an antifraud software that he later sold for millions of dollars before he decided to enter politics under Netanyahu’s administration. They had a fallout in 2008 after Netanyahu fired him as cabinet leader and Bennet came back to the political spotlight in 2013, as leader of the pro-colonial party, Jewish Home, and later founded his own party, Yamina (meaning rightwards in Hebrew) in 2018. He lost the 2019 elections and joined an eight-party coalition with centrist leader Yair Lapid, who had also lost to Netanyahu. Together, they have managed to win the 2021 elections and are now sworn in as Netanyahu’s replacements for the years to come.

Lapid is an ex-TV anchor turned politician in 2012 when he formed the Yesh Atid (meaning there is future) party, affiliating with centre politics. In 2019, he joined a centre-left alliance to destitute Netanyahu but was backstabbed by the left leader. Instead, Lapid became the leader of the opposition against the former prime minister and joined right-wing leader Naftali Bennet. Despite differing political views, they have decided to unite and work towards saving the economy and restoring Israeli society and security in the post-covid era. It has been arranged for Bennet to serve as Prime Minister for the first two years, while Lapid serves as foreign minister, and then switch roles in 2023.

Opposing views working together

Not only are Bennet and Lapid from different political stances, they also support and promote opposing agendas. Bennet, a right-wing leader who supports Israeli colonisation of Palestine, has been very open about his desires to eliminate the Palestinian state and promotes a shoot-to-kill scheme at the border with Gaza. On the other hand, Lapid is a supporter of the two-state solution, by building an effective frontier division between Israel and Palestine. He also promotes the protection of Arab citizens in Israel, going as far as being the first Israeli politician to form an alliance with an Arab party, Ra ’am, and turning them into the first Arab figures to be part of Israeli government.

There is concern on how this new administration will handle challenges, including the growing tensions with Hamas, the proxy wars like Iran and Syria, and the debate over the occupied territories and illegal settlements. These two leaders agree that Israel is for Israelis and their safety goes first, yet they have different roadmaps to ensuring this. Bennet stands for an offensive approach as to how to safeguard the security and supremacy of the Israeli state, while Lapid has a more defensive approach. This might hinder future decisions and legislations, pushing the leaders to find a balance. Bennet assures he will be the most hated man in Israel, as his diverse party may seem like a betrayal to the right-wing politics that have ruled the last decade of Israel.

Where’s Netanyahu now?

After 15 years in Israeli politics, Netanyahu is being trialled for corruption. He swears that Bennet’s victory is only possible due to election frauds, in his view, the biggest scam in the history of democracy. Netanyahu is in court for inciting violence against centre-left supporters which he justifies as political criticism, and being investigated for fraud allegations and bribery.

He is set to leave the official prime minister’s residence by July 10th, and Bennet is expected to move in a week after that. The residence has been the target of ongoing protests during the last year calling for Netanyahu to step down, yet he denies all accusations and promises to defy the new government and protect Israel from “the dangerous leftists” , although many believe Bennet to be even further aligned to right-wing politics than the former prime minister.

How have other leaders have reacted to Bennet?

US President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Bennet on the night of the election to congratulate him on his victory. German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor, expressed their wishes to work closely with the new administration. Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, restated that their interests are the same: A Palestinian state with Jerusalem as the capital. A Hamas spokesperson expressed that a change in government does not mean a change in perspective and they continue to view the Zionist state as a threat and colonial entity. Iran's representative also expressed little hope for change from the Israeli government and relations. Canadas’s Justin Trudeau and UK’s foreign minister congratulated the coalition and are looking forward to their collaboration on many global issues.

Between corruption charges and protests asking him to step-down, Netanyahu has been beat by his own protegees turned rivals. As they assume their new roles, Mr. Lapid is the first Israeli foreign minister to visit the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where he discussed the new Israel-UAE economic deals and the possibility of the UAE being a mediator between Israel and Palestine, while also having talked to US speaker Pelosi about strengthening ties with the Democrats. Meanwhile, Mr. Bennet has threatened Hamas with stronger retaliations than ever before, while dealing with a new COVID outbreak and “nuclear talks” with Iran. This paradoxical duo is sure to keep us all at the edge of our seats.

For more articles on events happening abroad, head to our dedicated Foreign Affairs section.

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