Israel’s new governing coalition has promised to reach out to neglected foreign allies as well as to heal divisiveness at home after securing a razor-thin margin to oust Benjamin Netanyahu.
But the longtime leader showed no signs of backing down, vowing on Monday to depose his rivals and saying he was cheated out of power.
Newly minted Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held a brief handover meeting in the afternoon with his predecessor, but without the formal ceremony that traditionally accompanies a change in government – a sign of Netanyahu’s lingering anger and hostility toward the new government.
Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, narrowly approved the new Bennett-led coalition government on Sunday, ending Netanyahu’s historic 12-year rule.
Bennett now presides over a diverse and fragile coalition comprised of eight small and mid-size parties with deep ideological differences – but promised to try to heal the divided nation.
Netanyahu serves as the opposition leader.
Likud lawmaker David Bitan told Kan public radio that Netanyahu did not hold a formal handover ceremony with Bennett because he feels “cheated” by the formation of the Bennett-Lapid government and “doesn’t want to give even the slightest legitimacy to this matter”.
The coalition includes three parties that are headed by politicians who used to be Netanyahu allies, including Bennett.
Although they share Netanyahu’s hardline ideology on many issues, the three leaders clashed with the divisive former prime minister over his personality and leadership style.
Under a coalition agreement, Bennett will hold the office of premier for the first two years of the term, and then Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, the architect of the coalition, will become prime minister.
The new government was sworn in late on Sunday and went to work on Monday morning.
Outgoing President Reuven Rivlin, who finishes his term next month, hosted Bennett, Lapid and the rest of the Cabinet at his official residence in Jerusalem for a photo of the new government.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, convened the first meeting of the political opposition, where he called on his partners to show “iron discipline” to depose “this dangerous leftist government, the fraud government” – though for the moment there is not much he can do beyond hoping to exploit their differences.
Netanyahu believes he was cheated because his Likud Party remains by far the largest faction in parliament and because so many of his former partners abandoned him.
The politician remains on trial on corruption charges. Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing.
World leaders welcomed Bennett to his new role after a two-year period of political paralysis in which the country held four deadlocked elections.
US President Joe Biden called Bennett late on Sunday to wish him well and pledge his commitment to preserving strong US-Israeli ties.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who shared close ties with Netanyahu, congratulated Bennett in a tweet in Hebrew, saying he “looks forward to meeting you and deepening the strategic relations between our countries”.
Modi also noted his “deep recognition” of Netanyahu’s leadership.
The United Arab Emirates, which established diplomatic relations with Israel last year as part of the so-called Abraham Accords orchestrated by the Trump administration, said it was looking “forward to working together to advance regional peace, strengthen tolerance and coexistence, and embark upon a new era of cooperation in technology, trade, and investment”.