New government starts process of taking power after 12 years of Netanyahu

Israel’s new government will meet President Reuven Rivlin for a festive photo on Monday as it begins the process of taking power following 12 years of rule by Benjamin Netanyahu.

The traditional group photo will be one of the last major acts as president for Rivlin who ends his term on July 9.

While the traditional photo at the President’s Residence signifies a normal transfer of power, Netanyahu indicated he would not take part in a traditional handover toast with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the prime minister’s residence.

Likud’s Netanyahu, expected to be chosen as the next opposition leader, will hold a meeting with Bennett on Monday to hand over the reins of the premiership, his office said in a statement.

But the meeting will take place at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, the statement said, making clear that the outgoing prime minister will not take part in the symbolic handover.

Netanyahu continued to assail the new government and Bennett up until the moment it was confirmed in the Knesset on Sunday.

“I will fight daily against this terrible, dangerous left-wing government in order to topple it,” Netanyahu said at the conclusion of his lengthy speech in the Knesset plenum. “With God’s help, it will happen a lot earlier than you think it will.”

However, he did briefly shake Bennet’s hand after the vote.

(L to R) Israel’s outgoing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with his successor, incoming Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, after a special session to vote on a new government at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

Later, he urged followers who greeted him at the residence to go out and protest the new government.

MKs voted by a wafer-thin 60-59 in favor of the new government, made up of right-wing, left-wing, centrist, and Islamist parties that came together to oust Netanyahu and end two years of political deadlock.

And incoming Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, whose defection from Likud to form his own party played a key role in bringing down Netanyahu, conceded the new government would have a difficult task staying the course.

Sa’ar told the Ynet news site that the divergent parties would not have been able to cobble together a coalition except for their “enormous perseverance,” and acknowledged that “it will not be an easy task to keep a majority of 60 to 59.”

“I am not taking it lightly,” he said.

The government is backed by eight of the 13 parties that won seats in the March 23 election, for a total of 60 votes in the 120-member Knesset: Yesh Atid (17 seats), Blue and White (8), Yisrael Beytenu (7), Labor (7), Yamina (6 of its 7 MKs), New Hope (6), Meretz (6) and Ra’am (3 of its 4 MKs).

Late Sunday, the new coalition held their first cabinet meeting with party leaders calling for “restraint” and “trust” to ensure the survival of the fledgling government.

Presiding over the meeting, held in the Knesset, Bennett opened his remarks with the “Shehechiyanu” prayer of thanksgiving. “We are at the start of new days,” he said, calling the establishment of a new government “a wonder.”

Bennett vowed that the new government would work to “mend the rift in the nation” after two years of political deadlock.

Stressing the wide range of views within the new coalition, Bennett urged his ministers to show “restraint” over the numerous ideological differences between the disparate parties to ensure its stability.

Newly elected Prime Minister Naftali Bennett waves, with Yair Lapid (left) and Gideon Sa’ar (right) alongside him, after their new coalition wins Knesset approval, June 13, 2021 (Haim Zach / GPO)

Without giving away any specific policy proposals that the new government would deal with in its first days, Bennett only said Sunday night that its cabinet meetings would start on time on Sunday mornings, in an apparent jibe at Netanyahu, who was notoriously late for the meetings.

Lapid, sitting alongside Bennett, said “friendship and trust” were the foundation of the government and only “friendship and trust” will keep it in power.

Bennett will serve as prime minister first in the rotation agreement with Lapid, who will serve as alternately prime minister and foreign minister until the handover on August 27, 2023.

In the meantime, in an attempt to ensure a smooth transition, Bennett will retain Brig. Gen. Avi Blot in his role as military secretary. National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat will also stay in office until after his successor is appointed. Both top officials were appointed by Netanyahu.

Following the cabinet meeting, Bennett met with Blot and Ben-Shabbat for his first security briefing as premier.

On Monday, a number of ministries will already hold hand-over ceremonies between the outgoing ministers and their incoming successors.

In terms of the top ministerial positions, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz remains defense minister and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman was sworn Sunday in as finance minister. New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar was appointed justice minister, while Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked was named interior minister and Yamina’s Matan Kahana took on the role of religious affairs minister. Labor’s Merav Michaeli received the transportation portfolio, and her fellow party member Omer Barlev became the new public security minister. Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz was appointed health minister.

Also late Sunday, MK Idit Silman of Yamina was chosen to head the powerful Knesset Aranglemts Committee to replace MK Karine Elharrar (Yesh Atid) who was appointed Energy Minister.

The coalition represents an unprecedentedly diverse mix of parties and leaders have vowed to try to work via consensus to heal rifts in Israeli society without crossing their own ideological red lines.

Israel’s new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right), alternate PM Yair Lapid (center), and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, in the Knesset, June 13, 2021. (Noam Moscowitz / Knesset spokesperson)

Speaking before the confidence vote in a speech repeatedly interrupted by the new opposition members, Bennett presented his new “reasonable and responsible” government, pledging that it would “end a terrible period of hatred among the people of Israel.”

As members of Netanyahu’s party shouted at Bennett that he was “a criminal” and a “liar,” Bennett said Likud MKs were providing proof of the urgent need to bring back decency and unity to Israeli politics.

He said the new government would work “for all the citizens of Israel” and bring an end to a cycle of elections and divisiveness. Israel has held four national elections since April 2019, which until now had yielded just one government: the short-lived power-sharing coalition last year of Likud and Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White.

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