Doubts and certainties of Israel's new government

Among the main challenges facing the coalition government is the approval of a state budget
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AP/MAYA ALLERUZZO  -   Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, seated on the left, President Reuven Rivlin, seated in the centre, and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid

Israel is finally emerging from the political quagmire in which it has been mired since 2019. After four elections in less than two years and on the verge of a fifth. The Lapid-Bennet coalition has finally come out on top, putting an end to 12 years of Benjamin Netanyahu's leadership. The Netanyahu-led government was brought to an end on Sunday by a vote in the Israeli parliament (Knesset) with 60 votes in favour, 59 against and one abstention.

The self-appointed "Government of Change" is made up of eight of the 13 parties that make up the Knesset and brings together all political spectrums from the right, including the centre, the left and, for the first time in the history of the Hebrew country, an Arab party to form part of the government. An amalgam of formations that are characterised more by their differences than by their similarities. But it seems that the need to oust Benjamin Netanyahu from power has outweighed all the differences and there is finally a change of government in Israel.

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AFP/GIL COHEN-MAGEN - Israel's incoming Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addresses the new cabinet at the Knesset in Jerusalem

The key question now is: how long will this new government last? The obstacles are many, starting with the fierce opposition that former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to embody. During his speech in parliament after the confidence vote, Netanyahu showed his belligerent tone towards the new government by attacking the new prime minister, Naftali Bennet, whom he said had no credibility in the international arena.

"Bennet has no credibility in the global arena. A prime minister should even be able to say no to the US government", in a clear reference to the nuclear deal that Biden's government wants to resume with Iran. Netanyahu continued his farewell speech by attacking the new government as a "weak government" and ended his speech by re-emphasising the idea of "fraud". "The public will not forget this tremendous fraud. We will work until we bring down this dangerous government. We will be back soon". With the words "we will be back soon" Benjamin Netanyahu bid farewell to the prime minister's post he has held for 12 years, warning that he will not make it easy for the new government.

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AFP/ EMMANUEL DUNAND - Israeli Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid arrives at the president's residence in Jerusalem for a photo

It is not only Benjamin Netanyahu who stands as one of the biggest obstacles for the Lapid-Bennet-led government to overcome. Naftali Bennet, who was sworn in as Israel's 13th prime minister, presented the new government's programme in the Knesset to cries of "Shame" and "liar" from the ultra-Orthodox parties and Likud members, referring to the atmosphere of political tension that the country has been experiencing in recent years. Bennet, who will serve as prime minister for two years and then hand over to Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, called for a more conciliatory tone. "The time has come for the different leaders, from all parts of the country, to stand up and stop this madness," he said.

In response to accusations from opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister also announced a hard line against Iran. "We will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. Israel is not a party to the nuclear deal, and we will maintain freedom of action," Bennet said. He also made reference to the Palestinian issue and said that this new government intends to "open a new chapter in the relationship with the Arab citizens of Israel", but always bearing in mind that the conflict persists "our enemies threaten the existence of the state of Israel. If Hamas launches missiles again, we will hit them hard", he said.

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AFP/GIL COHEN-MAGEN - Israel's incoming Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (C) delivers a speech while accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (C-L), Defence Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister Gideon Saar

Among the main challenges facing the coalition government is the approval of a state budget that has not been able to be approved since 2019. Likewise, and according to the coalition agreement, the new government will have to agree on limiting the number of consecutive mandates (eight years or two mandates) at the head of the government. This measure could put an end to Benjamin Netanyahu's chances of re-election.

Religion is another major taboo in a government made up of both secular and religious parties. The coalition aims to end the rabbinate's monopoly on the kosher industry. Along the same lines, there is much debate within the new government over the opening of shops and the use of public transport on the Sabbath, the Jewish holy day of rest. Another of the most controversial measures that caused the break-up of the previous coalition government between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz (Blue and White) is the incorporation of yeshiva (rabbinical school) students into military service, who are currently exempt.

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AFP/ EMMANUEL DUNAND - Outgoing former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left), accompanied by outgoing Finance Minister Yisrael Katz (right), and outgoing Finance Minister Yisrael Katz (right)

Israel's 36th government will have 28 ministries, the third largest in history, nine of which will be held by women. Another of the major milestones of this government is the incorporation, for the first time, of an Arab party. There are many points of friction that could lead to the failure of this coalition that has ousted the eternal Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing trial for corruption and fraud. But it is Netanyahu himself who has managed to get parties of such diverse ideologies to put aside their differences and form a government that will allow Israel to experience a different kind of leadership.

The streets of Tel Aviv were filled with Netanyahu's detractors celebrating the inauguration of the new government with chants of "a new era begins", while in Jerusalem hundreds of ultra-Orthodox gathered to pray in front of the Wailing Wall that the new government would not be approved.

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PHOTO/REUTERS - People celebrate after Israel's parliament voted in a new coalition government, ending Benjamin Netanyahu's 12 years in power, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Israel

US President Joe Biden was the first international leader to congratulate Naftali Bennet on the formation of a new government. During the conversation, Biden also re-emphasised the United States' unwavering commitment to Israel's security, according to an official White House statement. Israel's new government faces multiple obstacles that will test the capacity for understanding and cohesion among the heterogeneous political parties that make up the executive.