Benjamin Netanyahu Feels 'Cheated,' Won't Give 'the Slightest Legitimacy' to New Government, Lawmaker Says

A formal ceremony was not held as Naftali Bennett took over as Israel's prime minister due to Benjamin Netanyahu feeling "cheated" by the new government, the Associated Press reported.

David Bitan told Kan public radio Netanyahu "doesn't want to give even the slightest legitimacy to this matter."

The Sunday election ended Netanyahu's 12-year rule with a close vote of 60-59 in Knesset. Bennett was sworn in late Sunday and in two years Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will take over as prime minister.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Netanyahu in the Knesset New Government Approval
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks thoughtful as he sits in the Knesset before parliament votes to approve the new government on June 13, 2021 in Jerusalem, Israel. The new government, a broad coalition of parties with a razor-thin majority, would end the 12-year prime ministership of Benjamin Netanyahu. Amir Levy/Getty Images

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 comment to the press.

Topaz Luk, a Netanyahu aide, told Army Radio that the former prime minister — now opposition leader — is "full of motivation to topple this dangerous government as soon as possible."

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.

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."

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.

At a handover ceremony at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, Lapid told diplomats that Israel's foreign relations had suffered from "disgraceful neglect" in recent years, and pledged to mend relations with neighboring Jordan, the European Union, the Democratic Party in the U.S. and the American Jewry — relations that Lapid said had deteriorated under Netanyahu.

"The outgoing administration took a terrible gamble in focusing only on the Republicans and abandoning Israel's bipartisan standing," Lapid said. He added that Israel's ties with American Jews were "the most important relationship, and the one that needs to be worked on more than any other."

Lapid also echoed Bennett's remarks, saying that Israel remains opposed to a return to the previous nuclear agreement reached between world powers and Iran, and that it would "prevent by all means the possibility of Iran getting nuclear weapons."

Bennett, 49, a former ally of Netanyahu turned rival, became prime minister after Sunday's 60-59 vote in Knesset. 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.

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

His 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.

Israel's New Government
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, seated left, President Reuven Rivlin, seated center, and Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid seated right, pose for a group photo with the ministers of the new government at the President's residence in Jerusalem, Monday, June 14, 2021. Maya Alleruzzo/Associated Press