Israel set to vote in new government as Benjamin Netanyahu vows return to power from opposition

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to lead his Likud Party back to power on the day parliament was set to vote through the formation of a new coalition government.

In what is likely to become his outgoing speech to parliament, Mr Netanyahu, widely known as “Bibi” vowed to “topple this dangerous government and return to lead the country in our way”.

He made clear he had no plans to relinquish leadership of the right-wing Likud party. He will therefore become leader of the opposition, assuming the new government is sworn in.

The new administration, comprising an unprecedented coalition of parties from across the spectrum, is expected to win 61 votes in the 120-seat Knesset in a vote of confidence later.

The vote would end a record term of 12 consecutive years for the Israel prime minster, as well as a turbulent two years of politics that saw four elections, an economically devastating coronavirus outbreak and an 11-day conflict in Gaza in May.

Ultra-nationalist Naftali Bennett, a hi-tech millionaire and Orthodox Jew, is to replace Netanyahu in a power-sharing deal with centrist leader Yair Lapid. Mr Lapid, a former TV host, will take over as PM in 2023 for a further two years.

The new government has pledged to heal a nation bitterly divided over the departure of Mr Netanyahu, the most dominant Israeli politician of his generation.

These divisions were evident as Mr Bennett was heckled by supporters of Mr Netanyahu in a raucous session of parliament.

Addressing the Knesset ahead of the vote, Mr Bennett vowed to fight US efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal, a continuation of Mr Netanyahu’s confrontational policy.

“Israel will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” he said. “Israel will not be a party to the agreement and will continue to preserve full freedom of action.”

The ruling coalition looks unlike any before in the country’s 73-year history. It contains parties with extreme ideological differences, including for the first time a party that represents Israel’s 21% Arab minority, Raam.

The leaders are expected to steer clear of drastic moves on international issues such as policy on Palestine, focussing instead on domestic reforms.

But the coalition’s fragile majority means that it could collapse even if just one of the eight factions splintered. The groups are united in little more than their opposition to Mr Netanyahu.

Mr Netanyahu, 71, had failed to form a government after an election on 23 March, the fourth in two years. His fate was effectively sealed on 2 June, when eight groups with the 61 seats required for a majority signed an agreement.

His trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust – allegations which he denies – continues.

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