JERUSALEM - After more than twelve years of a government headed by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and four inconclusive elections, Israel has a new government. It consists of a coalition of eight parties from left to right and, for the first time, includes an Arab party. It was approved by a vote of 60 to 59 in the parliament. The new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, of the right-wing Yamina party, will serve for two years, followed by centrist Yair Lapid.
There were celebrations with foam and confetti in the streets of Tel Aviv Sunday night after Benjamin Netanyahu officially stepped down. Many here had been demonstrating against Netanyahu for many months and saw his loss as a victory.
Earlier, in the Israeli parliament, incoming Prime Minister Bennett was repeatedly heckled and several hardline Knesset members were thrown out of the chamber.
Bennett is 49 years old, the child of American parents, and the first Israeli prime minister to be religiously observant. During his maiden speech, he waited patiently for the heckling to subside before continuing.
He said he would be the prime minister of all Israelis, including those who didn’t vote for him, and promised to open a new chapter with Israel’s Arab citizens.
Bennett’s coalition of eight parties includes an Arab party, Ra’am, for the first time in the history of the Jewish state. Arab citizens make up 20% of Israel’s population and say they have been routinely discriminated against.
Political scientist Guy Ben Porat says that including an Arab party in the government is significant.
"We have an Arab party which is in the government and has been legitimized, even for a moment, also by the right-wing Likud. So, this could show a change for the future, where Arab citizens are equal partners in the political life of Israel," Porat said.
When it came his turn to speak, Netanyahu sharply attacked Bennett as a liar and promised to return to power soon.
He said that there are celebrations in Iran, implying that Bennett will not be able to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power. He also said that he will work day and night to get rid of Bennett’s leftist government and that the new government will fall faster than many think.
Palestinians say they do not expect any change in Israel’s policies under the new prime minister.