Netanyahu’s fate at stake as Israeli parliament votes on new government
Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, on Sunday opened a special session to vote on whether or not to approve a fragile “change” coalition, which could overthrow longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after more than 12 years in power.
Hailed as “King Bibi” by his far-right supporters and condemned as the “minister of crime” by his detractors, the warmonger Netanyahu has long been the dominant figure in Israeli politics.
The coalition that seeks to topple the 71-year-old prime minister aims to replace him with his former protégé-turned-rival, far-right Jewish nationalist and former tech millionaire Naftali Bennett, 49.
The disparate anti-Netanyahu bloc was cobbled together by secular centrist Yair Lapid, a former TV presenter, and includes eight parties, ranging from Bennett’s Yamina party to left-wing Labor and Palestinian community lawmakers in Israel.
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The Knesset met at 4 p.m. (1 p.m. GMT) to endorse the government in a confidence vote that will follow the speeches and a debate that could take around four hours.
The decisive vote will end Netanyahu’s record time in power or, in the event of a last-minute upheaval, bring Israel back to a stalemate that could trigger a fifth general election since 2019.
Bennett and Netanyahu spoke in the Knesset ahead of the vote.
“Thank you Benjamin Netanyahu for your long and fulfilling service on behalf of the State of Israel,” Bennett said in a speech at the start of the session, before reiterating his strong anti-Iranian stance.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, promised in his speech that he would stay in politics. “We will be back soon,” he told the Knesset.
Netanyahu, who is battling corruption charges in an ongoing trial he calls a conspiracy, has been the dominant Israeli politician of his generation, having also served a previous three-year term in the 1990s.
But analysts fear that members of the motley “change” coalition have little in common other than their desire to oust Netanyahu.
A fragile alliance
On Saturday evening, around 2,000 protesters gathered outside his official residence, holding up “Bye Bye Bibi” signs and celebrating what they hoped would be his departure from office.
“For us, it’s a big night, and tomorrow will be an even bigger day. I’m almost crying,” protester Ofir Robinski told AFP.
“We fought peacefully for this, and the day has come.”
“A morning of change,” promised a tweet Sunday morning from Lapid, who would serve as foreign minister under the coalition deal before taking office as prime minister in 2023, on condition that the wobbly alliance survives that long.
The anti-Netanyahu bloc covers the political spectrum, comprising three right-wing, two centrist and two left-wing parties, as well as an Islamic conservative party.
The unlikely alliance emerged following a wave of violent Israeli crackdown on Palestinian protesters in Israel, occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as the IDF and the Palestinian movement Hamas engaged in war day that resulted in the deaths of 248 Palestinians in Gaza and 12 people in Israel.
“We will work together, out of partnership and national responsibility – and I believe we will succeed,” Bennett, Netanyahu’s former defense minister, said on Friday.
Netanyahu, who has long earned a reputation as Israel’s last political survivor, has tried to eliminate defectors who would rob the fledgling coalition of its tiny legislative majority in parliament’s 120 seats.
He accused Bennett of “fraud” for siding with rivals, and angry rallies by supporters of the prime minister’s Likud party, as well as threats, have bolstered the security of some lawmakers.
Netanyahu’s bombastic remarks as he sees his grip on the fall from power drew parallels at home and abroad with former US President Donald Trump, who described his election defeat last year as a result. of a rigged vote.
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Netanyahu called the future coalition Israel’s “biggest electoral fraud in history” and warned of the threat of a “dangerous” “left” government.
Opponents of the prime minister accused him and his allies of stoking tensions to cling to power in a “scorched earth” campaign.
If Netanyahu loses the post of prime minister, he will not be able to get parliament to pass fundamental law changes that could grant him immunity on the charges he faces in his corruption trial.
Netanyahu’s years in power were also marked by the expansion of settlements, illegal under international law, in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In recent days, Israeli police have further cracked down on Palestinian protests against the planned expropriation of families from their homes in East Jerusalem to make way for Jewish Israeli settlers.
Meanwhile, right-wing anger has grown in Israel over the postponement last week of a right-wing and nationalist Jewish march in sensitive areas of Jerusalem’s Old City, including near the al-mosque complex. -Aqsa.
The “March of the Flags” is now scheduled for Tuesday, and the turmoil surrounding it could represent a key first test for a new coalition government.