In an improbable scenario few could have imagined, Iraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's record 12-year run ended on Sunday with parliament approving a so-called “government of change” led by nationalist Naftali Bennett.
The newly-elected coalition – consisting of left-wing, centrist, right-wing and Arab parties - was voted in by a razor-thin margin, with little in common except the desire to unseat Netanyahu, underscoring its likely fragility.
Addressing parliament before Bennett was sworn in, a combative Netanyahu indicated he isn’t exiting quietly, saying (quote), “If we are destined to go into the opposition, we will do so with our heads held high until we can topple it" – adding that that would happen (quote), "sooner than people think."
Interrupted by non-stop shouts of "liar" and "shame" from Netanyahu loyalists in parliament, Bennett thanked the former prime minister for his "lengthy and achievement-filled service on behalf of the State of Israel."
Netanyahu is Israel's longest-serving leader, having also served a first term from 1996 to 1999.
But he was weakened by his repeated failure to clinch victory in four elections over the past two years, including a vote in March, and by an ongoing corruption trial, in which he has denied any wrongdoing.
Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas also engaged in over a week of intense warfare last month, with both sides criticized for civilian casualties.
Under the coalition deal, Bennett, an Orthodox Jew and tech millionaire, will be replaced as prime minister by centrist Yair Lapid, a popular former television host, in 2023.
The new government largely plans to avoid sweeping moves on hot-button international issues such as policy toward the Palestinians, and to focus instead on domestic reforms.
U.S. President Joe Biden congratulated Bennett, Lapid and the rest of the new cabinet and said he looked forward to working with Bennett to strengthen the "close and enduring" relationship between their two countries.