Updated Jun 13, 2021 - World

Netanyahu is out as new Israeli government survives confidence vote

Photo: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images

Israel has a new prime minister for the first time since 2009 after a power-sharing government led by Naftali Bennett survived a confidence vote on Sunday. Bennett was sworn in as prime minister.

Why it matters: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister and the man around whom Israeli politics have revolved for a decade, will now become opposition leader. Bennett, a right-wing former Netanyahu protege, will lead the most ideologically diverse government in Israeli history.

  • The final vote was 60-59 with one abstention, the smallest possible majority for the new government.
  • The latest: President Biden spoke by phone with Bennett shortly after the vote and said he looked forward to working with the new government. Bennett thanked Biden for his support of Israel during the last operation in Gaza and said he is a great friend of Israel, Bennett’s office said.
  • Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Tony Blinken also released statements welcoming the new government. Blinken spoke by phone with his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid and invited him to Washington.
  • State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Blinken and Lapid discussed the U.S. commitment to Israel's security, the importance of maintaining a cessation of hostilities, opportunities to deepen and broaden normalization of diplomatic relations and the threat posed by Iran.

Driving the news: Netanyahu fought desperately to avert this outcome, vehemently denouncing Bennett and pressuring fellow conservatives to abandon him ahead of the vote. Tensions were so high that the head of the Shin Bet domestic security agency warned of potential political violence.

  • Netanyahu used his last speech as prime minister to denounce President Biden's Iran policies and claim that Bennett would be too weak to stand up to Washington. As Bennett spoke, Netanyahu allies repeatedly interrupted him.
  • Shortly before the vote, Netanyahu was asked by reporters if he was committed to an orderly transfer of power and answered sarcastically: "No, there will be a revolution. What an idiotic question."

What's next: Netanyahu has also promised to quickly bring down the government, which could be quite fragile given its narrow majority and deep ideological divisions.

  • Netanyahu, meanwhile, will be leading the opposition while facing a corruption trial.
  • Netanyahu gave Bennett a brief, wordless handshake after the vote. The two will meet on Monday in order for Netanyahu to brief Bennett on several issues, but there will not be a formal ceremony to mark Bennett's arrival into office.

The big picture: Bennett became prime minister despite winning just 7 of the 120 seats in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, in the March elections.

  • In the post-election chaos, he played the kingmaker role because neither Netanyahu nor Lapid could form a government without him.
  • Bennett ultimately elected to join with Lapid and an eclectic coalition of other parties — including the Islamist United Arab List, or Ra'am, the first Arab party to join an Israeli government in five decades.
  • Netanyahu has called Bennett's move the "fraud of the century" because Bennett had promised before the election not to partner with Lapid.
  • Under their coalition deal, Lapid and Bennett will both hold vetos on the government's policies, and Lapid will rotate in as prime minister after two years.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with details of Blinken's call with Lapid.

Go deeper