Israelis took to the streets to celebrate after an unprecedented coalition of parties was voted into power, ending Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year run in office.
“I am here celebrating the end of an era in Israel,” said supporter Erez Biezuner in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, where revellers fired a foam cannon and threw confetti. “We want them to succeed and to unite us again,” he added, as flag-waving supporters of the new government sang and danced around him.
Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, vowed to unite the nation after being sworn into office. The Right-wing nationalist will lead a new “government of change” narrowly backed by MPs in a vote yesterday.
Mr Natanyahu, 71, who was Israel’s longest serving prime minister and is on trial for corruption, was ousted after a divisive period when he failed to secure a majority in four elections over two years.
Mr Bennett, leader of the Yamina party, will be prime minister until September 2023 as part of a power-sharing deal. Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, will then lead the country for two years.
Mr Bennett said his government would “work for the sake of all the people”, and his administration’s priorities would be reforms in education, health and cutting red tape to support businesses and lowering housing costs.
In his speech, Mr Bennett, 49, said: “This is not a day of mourning. There is a change of government in a democracy. That’s it. We will do all we can so that no-one should have to feel afraid... And I say to those who intend to celebrate tonight, don’t dance on the pain of others. We are not enemies — we are one people.”
The new cabinet, which met for the first time yesterday, faces huge challenges including Iran, a fragile ceasefire with Palestinian militants in Gaza, a war crimes probe by the International Criminal Court and post-pandemic recovery.
Mr Bennett has ruled out a Palestinian state and wants Israel to maintain ultimate control over all the lands it occupies.
Mr Netanyahu, who will become leader of the opposition, and his successor were scheduled 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 with a vote of 60-59.
Mr Netanyahu sat quietly during the vote and after it was approved, he stood up to leave the chamber before turning around and shaking Mr Bennett’s hand.
He then sat briefly in the opposition leader’s chair before withdrawing.
Mr Netanyahu said he would work in the opposition to “topple this dangerous government” and return to power.
Boris Johnson congratulated the two new leaders and said it is an exciting time for the two countries to continue working together towards “peace and prosperity for all”.
US President Joe Biden also congratulated the two on their win during a phone call and said he was looking forward to working with the Israeli PM "to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations".
He added: "Israel has no better friend than the United States. The bond that unites our people is evidence of our shared values and decades of close cooperation and as we continue to strengthen our partnership, the United States remains unwavering in its support for Israel’s security.
"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."
Mr Bennett’s party holds six seats and the fragility of the parties making up the coalition means it could collapse if any of its members decide to depart.
The vote resulted in the end of a tumultuous two years of politics that saw the four elections and an 11-day conflict in Gaza in May.
Watch: A 'new day' in Israel after Netanyahu unseated