(AP) — Israel
will swear in a new government on Sunday, ushering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
into opposition after a record 12 years in office and a political crisis that prompted four elections
in two years.
, the leader of a small ultranationalist party, will take over as prime minister, but he will have to maintain an unwieldy coalition of political right, left, and center parties if he wants to keep the job.
The eight parties, which include a small Arab faction that is making history by joining the ruling coalition, are united in their opposition to Netanyahu and new elections, but they agree on little else; they are likely to pursue a modest agenda that seeks to reduce tensions with the Palestinians
and maintain good relations with the US without launching any major initiatives.
Netanyahu, who is on trial
, remains the leader of the largest party in parliament and is expected to vigorously oppose the new government; if just one faction defected, the government could lose its majority and collapse, giving him an opportunity to reclaim power.
However, Yohanan Plesner, president
of Israel Democracy
Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, believes the new government will be more stable than it appears.
“Even though it has a very narrow majority, it will be very difficult to topple and replace because the opposition is not cohesive,” he said, adding that each party in the coalition will want to demonstrate its ability to deliver, and they will need “time and achievements” to do so.
Nonetheless, Netanyahu will “continue to cast a shadow,” according to Plesner, who expects the incoming opposition leader to exploit events and propose legislation that right-wing coalition members would like to support but are unable to do so — all in order to embarrass and undermine them.
Meanwhile, the new government promises a return to normalcy following a tumultuous two years that included four elections, an 11-day Gaza war
last month, and a coronavirus
outbreak that devastated the economy
before being largely contained by a successful vaccination
, a political centrist, is the driving
force behind the coalition, and if the government lasts two years, he will become Prime Minister.
, Israel's parliament, will convene at 4 p.m. (1300 GMT) to vote on the new government, which is expected to win a narrow majority in the 120-member assembly and be sworn in later this evening.
It is unclear whether Netanyahu will attend the ceremony or when he will leave the official residence; he has spoken in apocalyptic terms about the new government and accused Bennett of defrauding voters
by running as a right-wing stalwart and then partnering with the left.
Netanyahu supporters have staged angry protests outside the homes of rival lawmakers, who claim they have received death
threats naming their family members. Israel's Shin Bet internal security
service issued a rare public warning about the incitement earlier this month, warning that it could lead to violence.
Netanyahu has condemned the incitement while also acknowledging that he has been a target.
His place in Israeli history is secure, having served as prime minister for a total of 15 years — more than anyone else, including the country's founder, David Ben-Gurion.
Netanyahu began his long rule by defying the Obama administration, refusing to halt settlement construction while the administration tried in vain to restart the peace process. Relations with Israel's closest ally deteriorated further when Netanyahu vigorously campaigned against President Barack Obama
's emerging nuclear deal
, even denouncing it in a speech to the United States Congress
But he suffered few, if any, consequences from those clashes and was lavishly rewarded by the Trump administration
, which recognized disputed Jerusalem as Israel's capital, helped broker normalization agreements with four Arab states, and withdrew the United States from the Iran deal.
Netanyahu has portrayed himself as a world-class statesman, boasting of his close ties with Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin
, as well as cultivating ties with Arab and African countries that have long shunned Israel because of its policies toward Palestinians.
However, he has received a far colder reception from the Biden administration
and is widely regarded as undermining the US's long tradition of bipartisan support for Israel.
His reputation as a political magician has also faded at home, where he has become a deeply polarizing figure, with critics alleging that he has long pursued a divide-and-conquer strategy that has exacerbated schisms in Israeli society between Jews and Arabs, as well as between his close ultra-Orthodox allies and secular Jews.
In November 2019, he was charged with fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes. He refused to resign, instead lashing out at the media
, judiciary, and law enforcement, even accusing his political opponents of orchestrating an attempted coup.
Netanyahu remains popular among the hard-line nationalists who dominate Israeli politics
, but he may face a leadership challenge from within his own party soon. A less polarizing Likud leader would have a better chance of assembling a coalition that is both further to the right and more stable than the government that is about to be sworn in.