Naftali Bennett Becomes New Israeli Prime Minister as Netanyahu Vows 'We Will Come Back'

Israel's parliament the Knesset on Sunday approved a new coalition government, ousting longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and making Naftali Bennett the new head of government.

Netanyahu had held the role for 12 years, making him the longest-serving prime minister in Israel's history. The Israeli politician, mired in controversy and charged with corruption, had already failed to form a sustainable government after four elections within just two years.

"This is a holiday for the press but a difficult day for millions of citizens of Israel," Netanyahu, who leads the right-wing Likud party, told reporters, according to The Jerusalem Post. "I ask you not to lose your spirits. We will come back."

Bennett struck a conciliatory tone at the beginning of a speech ahead of the Knesset's confidence vote, thanking Netanyahu for his leadership of Israel.

Naftali Bennett
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, head of Israel's right-wing Yamina party, addresses lawmakers during a special session to vote on a new government at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 13. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images

"Thank you to the outgoing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for your many years of service, replete with achievements, for the sake of the State of Israel. As Prime Minister you acted throughout many years to embolden Israel's political, security, and economic strength," the new prime minister said.

Bennett also addressed issues within Israel. Many within the new government and the country saw Netanyahu's divisive politics as stoking tensions between different factions within the country, particularly as the latest Gaza war unfolded last month.

"At this time, we are also facing an internal challenge. The ongoing rift in the nation, as we see in these very moments, which continues to rip apart the seams that hold us together, and has thrown us—one election after another—into a maelstrom of hatred and in-fighting," he said.

The new coalition has already faced skepticism, as the eight political parties within the new government vary widely along the ideological spectrum. Bennett, who leads the right-wing Yamina party, managed to bring together a coalition of right and left-wing parties. For the first time in more than 40 years, an Arab political party will be part of the ruling government as well.

The groups were largely united by their desire to oust Netanyahu in a bid to end political paralysis. Netanyahu remains the head of the largest political party in the Knesset, and Bennett's government was only approved by the narrowest margin in a 60-to-59 vote.

President Joe Biden quickly extended his congratulations to Bennett and the new government.

"On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations," the president said.

Benjamin Netanyahu
Outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses lawmakers during a special session to vote on a new government at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 13 EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images

He asserted that 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."

Under the coalition's agreement, Bennett will retain the role of prime minister for two years before political centrist Yair Lapid assumes the role. As of Sunday, Lapid assumed the role of foreign minister.

Videos shared online showed thousands of Israelis cheering and rallying in the streets following Netanyahu's ouster.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates Israel's longest-serving prime ministers.

Israel's longest-serving prime ministers
Statista

This story was updated with additional information and background.