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Israel's New Government Gets to Work   06/14 06:21

   For the first time in 12 years, Israelis on Monday woke up to a new 
government and a new prime minister, after Naftali Bennett secured the backing 
of parliament and ousted longtime leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

   JERUSALEM (AP) -- For the first time in 12 years, Israelis on Monday woke up 
to a new government and a new prime minister, after Naftali Bennett secured the 
backing of parliament and ousted longtime leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

   The two were slated to hold a handover meeting later in the day, but without 
the formal ceremony that traditionally accompanies a change in government.

   Israel's parliament, the Knesset, narrowly approved the new Bennett-led 
coalition government on Sunday, ending Netanyahu's historic 12-year rule. The 
divisive former prime minister, the longest to hold office, will now serve as 
the opposition leader.

   David Bitan, a Likud lawmaker, told Kan public radio that Netanyahu was not 
holding the 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."

   Under a coalition agreement, Bennett will hold office of the 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 set to work Monday 
morning, with ministers announcing appointments of new ministry directors. 
Outgoing President Reuven Rivlin, who finishes his term in office next month, 
hosted Bennett, Lapid and the rest of the Cabinet at his official residence in 
Jerusalem for the official photo of the new government. Bennett and Lapid 
declined to comments to the press.

   Topaz Luk, a Netanyahu aide, told Army Radio that the former prime minister 
will "fight this dangerous and horrible government" as opposition leader. "He's 
full of motivation to topple this dangerous government as soon as possible," 
Luk said.

   World leaders have congratulated Bennett on becoming the 13th person to hold 
the office of Israeli prime minister.

   British Prime Minister Boris Johnson congratulated Bennett and Lapid on 
forming a government, tweeting that "this is an exciting time for the UK and 
Israel to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all."

   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 
voiced his "deep recognition" of Netanyahu's leadership.

   Lapid, Israel's new foreign minister and alternate prime minister, spoke 
with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and "discussed the special 
relationship between the US and Israel," he wrote on Twitter.

   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 in a statement that 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."

   Bennett, 49, a former ally of Netanyahu turned rival, became prime minister 
after the 60-59 vote in Knesset on Sunday. The motion passed after a member of 
the coalition was taken by ambulance from hospital to the parliament building 
to cast her vote, and despite an abstention by a member of the Islamist Raam 
party.

   He heads a diverse and fragile coalition comprised of eight parties with 
deep ideological differences, ranging from a small Islamist party to Jewish 
ultranationalists. Bennett said he is prioritizing mending the many rifts 
dividing Israeli society.

   Bennett's ultranationalist Yamina party won just seven seats in the 
120-member Knesset in March elections. But by refusing to commit to Netanyahu 
or his opponents, Bennett positioned himself as kingmaker. Even after one 
member of his religious nationalist party abandoned him to protest the new 
coalition deal, he ended up with the post of premier.

   The Knesset vote capped a chaotic parliamentary session and ended a two-year 
period of political paralysis in which the country held four deadlocked 
elections. Those votes focused largely on Netanyahu's divisive rule and his 
fitness to remain in office while on trial for corruption charges.

   Netanyahu has made clear he has no intention of exiting the political stage. 
"If it is destined for us to be in the opposition, we will do it with our backs 
straight until we topple this dangerous government and return to lead the 
country," he said Sunday.

   To his supporters, Netanyahu is a global statesman uniquely capable of 
leading the country through its many security challenges.

   But to his critics, he has become a polarizing and autocratic leader who 
used divide-and-rule tactics to aggravate the many rifts in Israeli society. 
Those include tensions between Jews and Arabs, and within the Jewish majority 
between his religious and nationalist base and his more secular and dovish 
opponents.

 
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