Ousting Longest Serving PM, Israel Gets New Government

The long and divisive reign of Benjamin Netanyahu, the dominant Israeli Prime Minister who led the nation for a long dozen years, officially ended, as the country’s Parliament gave its vote of confidence to a precarious coalition government stitched together by widely disparate anti-Netanyahu forces. Benjamin Netanyahu’s record 12-year run as Israel’s prime minister ended on Sunday, June 13th with Israeli Parliament approving a new “government of change” led by nationalist Naftali Bennett, an improbable scenario few Israelis once could have imagined. Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, approved the new government by just a single vote — 60 to 59, with one abstention. Naftali Bennett took the oath of office as prime minister.

Under the coalition deal, Bennett, a 49-year-old Orthodox Jew and high-tech millionaire, will be replaced as prime minister in 2023 by centrist YairLapid, 57, a popular former television host. With his far-right Yamina party winning only six of parliament’s 120 seats in the last election, Bennett’s ascension to the premiership was a political jaw-dropper.They lead an eight-party alliance ranging from left to right, from secular to religious, that agrees on little but a desire to oust Mr. Netanyahu, the longest-serving leader in the country’s history, and to end Israel’s lengthy political gridlock.

Meanwhile, reports here suggest, Israel’s fragile new government has shown little interest in addressing the decades-old conflict with the Palestinians, but it may not have a choice.Jewish ultranationalists are already staging provocations aimed at splitting the coalition and bringing about a return to right-wing rule. In doing so, they risk escalating tensions with the Palestinians weeks after an 11-day Gaza war was halted by an informal cease-fire. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s best hope for maintaining his ruling coalition — which consists of eight parties from across the political spectrum — will be to manage the conflict, the same approach favored by his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, for most of his 12-year rule. But that method failed to prevent three Gaza wars and countless smaller eruptions.

That’s because the status quo for Palestinians involves expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank, looming evictions in Jerusalem, home demolitions, deadly shootings and an array of discriminatory measures that two well-known human rights groups say amount to apartheid. In Gaza, which has been under a crippling blockade since the Hamas militant group seized power in 2007, it’s even worse. “They talk about it being a government of change, but it’s just going to entrench the status quo,” said Waleed Assaf, a Palestinian official who coordinates protests against West Bank settlements. “Bennett is a copy of Netanyahu, and he might even be more radical.”

Bennett said little about the Palestinians in a speech before being sworn in on Sunday. “Violence will be met with a firm response,” he warned, adding that “security calm will lead to economic moves, which will lead to reducing friction and the conflict.” Environment Minister Tamar Zandberg, a member of the dovish Meretz party, told Israeli television’s Channel 12 that she believes the peace process is important, but that the new government has agreed, “at least at this stage, not to deal with it.”

The government faces an early challenge on JabalSabeeh, a hilltop in the northern West Bank where dozens of Jewish settlers rapidly established an outpost last month, paving roads and setting up living quarters that they say are now home to dozens of families. The settlement, named Eviatar after an Israeli who was killed in an attack in 2013, was built without the permission of Israeli authorities on land the Palestinians say is privately owned. Israeli troops have evacuated settlers from the site three times before, but they returned after an Israeli was killed in a shooting attack nearby early last month.

Clearing them out again would embarrass Bennett and other right-wing members of the coalition, who already face fierce criticism — and even death threats — for allying with centrist and left-wing factions to oust Netanyahu. Meanwhile, Palestinians from the adjacent village of Beita have held regular protests against the settlement outpost. Demonstrators have thrown stones, and Israeli troops have fired tear gas and live ammunition. Three protesters have been killed, including 17-year-old Mohammed Hamayel, who was shot dead Friday. Initial reports said he was 15.

“I always taught him you should stand up for your rights without infringing on the rights of others,” his father, Said, said at a mourning event attended by dozens of villagers. He described his son as a popular teenager who got good grades and was a natural leader. “Thank God, I’m very proud of my son,” he said. “Even in martyrdom he distinguished himself.” Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza in the 1967 Mideast war, territories the Palestinians want for a future state. The settlements are seen by the Palestinians and much of the international community as a major obstacle to peace because they make it nearly impossible to create a contiguous, viable state of Palestine alongside Israel.

Every Israeli government since 1967 has expanded the settlements, and this one is unlikely to be an exception. Bennett briefly served as head of a major settler organization, and his party is one of three in the coalition that strongly support settlements.

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