(CNN) — Naftali Bennett was sworn in on Sunday as Israel’s new prime minister, after winning a confidence vote by the narrowest margin, just 60 votes to 59. His victory ends 12 years of power of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader with more years in office in the country.
After four elections in two years, the incoming Bennett government breaks a long political deadlock and ushers in the most diverse coalition Israel has ever seen, including the first Arab party to be in government.
In his speech before the confidence vote in the Israeli parliament, known as the Knesset, Bennett celebrated diversity and warned of the country’s polarization.
“Twice in history we have lost our national home precisely because the leaders of the generation were unable to sit down with others and compromise. Each one was right, but with all that reason they burned our house on top of us, “said Bennett. “I am proud of the ability to sit next to people with very different opinions from my own.”
Bennett became prime minister as the leader of Yamina, a right-wing party with just seven Knesset seats, making him the only prime minister in the country’s history with such a small faction.
Instead, Netanyahu’s Likud party won 30 seats in the March elections. However, once again, Netanyahu was unable to form a governing coalition with the majority of the 120 members of the Knesset.
During the pre-inauguration debate, Netanyahu attacked the coalition that expelled him from the Prime Minister’s Office after a record 12 years in a row, calling it a “weak” and “dangerous” government. Long considered the “wizard” of Israeli politics, Netanyahu had survived years of challenges to his power, surviving and outlasting his opponents. But tonight, he had too many opponents who wanted to see him go.
After touting his accomplishments throughout his years in office, Netanyahu attacked his rivals.
“They call themselves the guardians of democracy, but they are so afraid of democracy that they are ready to pass fascist laws against my candidacy, the language of North Korea and Iran, to maintain their regime,” he said, referring to speculation that the new government would impose term limits or outlaw someone who has been accused of being prime minister.
Warning that the new government would not confront Iran, Netanyahu warned his internal rivals and external enemies: “We will be back soon.”
Bennett’s path to victory seemed all but lost during the 11 days of clashes between Israel and Palestinian militants last month, when Netanyahu appeared to thwart any chance of opposition parties forming a government to replace him.
But Yair Lapid, leader of the 17-seat centrist Yesh Atid party, forged the cross-party agreements that led to the end of Netanyahu’s grip on power. The agreement places Bennett at the head of a coalition that includes parties of the right, left and Arab, united largely by their desire to dethrone Netanyahu.
These disparate interests will challenge the coalition to find common ground on key issues, such as what policy to pursue with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank of the Jordan or how to manage the relationship with Gaza. The international community, including the United States, is pushing for a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians to resume, but this government is ill-equipped to handle such negotiations, as two of the parties openly oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Instead, Bennett will focus on domestic issues during his two years as prime minister, before handing over the reins to Lapid under the coalition agreement. These will include the relationship between religion and state, the cost of living, and quality of life issues. Israel has also not approved a budget since March 2018; the newly anointed government has three months to enact one or the Knesset will be dissolved and the country will once again head to elections by law.
However, the new government will have no choice but to grapple with some of the thorniest issues. In East Jerusalem, the eviction of several Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood is still awaiting a High Court decision. The final ruling was delayed in an attempt to avoid tension and violence in Jerusalem last month, but nevertheless sparked an escalation that led to more than a week of conflict between Israel and Gaza, leaving hundreds dead, most of them Palestinians.
Throughout his political career, Israel’s new prime minister has served as defense minister, economy minister, education minister, and more. But he was always under Netanyahu, and Bennett began his political career as Netanyahu’s chief of staff. By replacing his former boss, Bennett has already etched his name in the country’s political history, especially after years of unprecedented political stalemate.
Bennett’s political success and survival ultimately depends on his ability to forge a compromise between the different parties in the coalition, even if only on a narrow national agenda. Otherwise, you risk ending your term as prime minister shortly after it begins.
Joe Biden felicita a Bennett
US President Joe Biden congratulated Bennett on Sunday on his first statement on the political situation in Israel, saying he looks forward to working with the new prime minister.
“Israel has no better friend than the United States,” Biden wrote in his statement. “The bond that unites our peoples is a testament to 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 government is fully committed to working with the new Israeli government to promote security, stability and peace for Israelis, Palestinians and the peoples of the entire region,” Biden said.
CNN’s Amir Tal contributed to this report.