Israel’s parliament on Sunday voted to end Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year tenure as prime minister and immediately replaced him with a coalition government led by Naftali Bennett that has pledged to heal a nation bitterly divided over the departure of the country’s longest-serving leader.
Bennett, the right-wing Jewish nationalist and former tech millionaire who controls six seats in the 120-seat Knesset, was sworn in as prime minister after the parliament backed the new coalition government by a razor-thin margin of 60 votes to 59.
The new PM will lead an unlikely alliance of left-wing, centrist and right-wing parties, as well as a party that represents the 21-per cent minority comprising Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Many of the disgruntled parliamentarians reportedly have little in common except for a desire to unseat Netanyahu.
In line with a rotational agreement, Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years before he gets replaced by the centrist leader Yair Lapid, the chief architect of the new government.
While the proceedings lasted, a dejected Netanyahu was said to have sat silently during the vote.
He only stood up to leave the chamber after the government was approved, before turning around and shaking Bennett’s hand.
Wearing a black medical mask, Netanyahu, the most dominant Israeli politician of his generation, failed to form a government after Israel’s March 23 election, its fourth in two years.
The 71-year-old, in typically combative style, had vowed shortly before his defeat that “if it’s our destiny to be in the opposition, we’ll do so with our heads high until we take down this bad government and return to lead the country our way”.
Fondly called “King Bibi” by his right-wing supporters and condemned as the “crime minister” by his critics, Netanyahu has been regarded as an increasingly divisive, figure in Israeli politics.
AFP also reported that in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, Netanyahu’s opponents broke out in cheers and launched into an evening of joyous celebrations, having rallied in recent days with “Bye-bye Bibi” placards.
One of the demonstrators, Tal Surkis, 19, confessed to “mixed feelings” about the incoming change coalition, but said, “it’s something Israel needs”.
Meanwhile, 49-year-old Bennett, in a Knesset speech before the vote, promised the new government, a coalition of ideologically divergent parties, “represents all of Israel”.
He said the country, after four inconclusive elections in under two years, had been thrown “into a maelstrom of hatred and in-fighting”.
“The time has come for different leaders, from all parts of the population, to stop, to stop this madness”, he said, to angry shouts of “liar” and “criminal” from right-wing opponents.