By Anchal Vohra*
Benjamin Netanyahu fought to the bitter end but lost by a single vote at the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, as a new government with Naftali Bennett as Prime Minister was formed.
Israelis gathered in several cities and celebrated the ousting of a man who had been prime minister for 12 consecutive long years, even though his tenure was mired in several controversies including corruption charges. It took four elections in the last two years to get Netanyahu, finally, out of the door.
Papers headlined the news as the end of an era and speculated about the future of the state of Israel backed by the United States but encumbered with a historical conflict with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu was the son of an Israel-born mother and a Jewish father from Poland. His father adopted revisionist Zionism—a political ideology that propagates Israeli right over lands west of the Jordan river and is believed to have had shaped his ideas. Netanyahu rose in the ranks of power steadily since he became Israel’s deputy envoy to the US in 1982. He first won the election in 1996 and his first stint as Israel’s Prime Minister lasted until 1999. Later, he won consecutive terms in the polls in 2009, 2013, and 2015.
Netanyahu was widely seen as war averse but pro-Israeli settlements deep inside the West Bank—the area west of the Jordan river which was under Jordan’s control until the seven-day war in 1967. His policy was to keep occupying more and more Palestinian land, which he believed belonged to Israel, and manage pressure from the west on the other hand to forever delay a political resolution.
His relationship with President Obama was a trying one. Donald Trump, however, proved to be a godsend, a genie that kept granting all of his wishes. Trump not only made Iran the principal enemy of the US and walked out of the painstakingly struck US-Iran nuclear deal or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA] but also relocated the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a de facto acknowledgment of Israel’s claim on the holy city over that of the Palestinians.
Trump made sure that Netanyahu succeeded in pushing through the Abraham Accords under which Israel signed normalisation deals with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan. Albeit secretly, he visited Saudi Arabia to meet with the Crown Prince Mohamad Bin Salman [MbS] ostensibly to discuss creating a trade and tourism zone near the Red Sea around the futuristic Saudi city of NEOM, but the real significance of the meeting was political. It was read as the first sign of a serious rapprochement between Israel and the widely acknowledged leader of the Sunni world.
The Abraham Accords would certainly be seen as Netanyahu’s legacy. For now, the world leaders are welcoming his replacement with open arms. Following in the footsteps of Obama, the new American President Joe Biden has not shown any particular fondness for Netanyahu. It isn’t clear if Biden would get along better with Bennett. but he was amongst the first to assert the US’s continued support for Israeli security and send a congratulatory message.
“Israel has no better friend than the United States,” President Biden said in a statement. “My administration is fully committed to working with the new Israeli government to advance security, stability, and peace for Israelis, Palestinians, and people throughout the broader region.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that their two countries were connected by a “unique friendship,” and with that in mind, she looked forward to working closely with Bennett.
The United Kingdom, Canada, and Austria also welcomed the new Israeli PM as did the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi who tweeted to express his gratitude to Netanyahu as the two leaders had expanded bilateral ties and greeted each other as friends. “As you complete your successful tenure as the Prime Minister of the State of Israel, I convey my profound gratitude for your leadership and personal attention to India-Israel strategic partnership,” PM Modi tweeted.
Netanyahu returned the gratitude in a retweet with a comment, as he did with at least one other leader. But experts say the coalition government in Israel is hanging by a thread and a leader like Netanyahu cannot yet be written off. Whilst it is unclear whether he will succeed in returning as Prime Minister anytime soon, this was certainly not the last we saw of him in the political arena.
“We have a very strong opposition and we will work together to overthrow this fraudulent government very quickly,” Netanyahu tweeted soon after his defeat at the Knesset. “Do not let your spirit fall. We’ll be back—and faster than you think.”
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).