Israel’s designated PM vows to fight Iran nuclear deal

JERUSALEM: Israel’s designated prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said that renewing the international nuclear deal with Iran will be a mistake.

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In a speech to parliament, Bennett said that Israel remains ready to act against Iran.

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“Israel will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” Bennett said. “Israel will not be a party to the agreement and will continue to preserve full freedom of action.”

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The strong comments maintain the confrontational policy by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Nonetheless, Bennett thanked President Joe Biden and the US administration for supporting Israel over the decades.

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Bennett’s new government was scheduled to be sworn into office late Sunday after a parliamentary vote and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be in the opposition after a record 12 years in office and a political crisis that sparked four elections in two years.

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Bennett, the head of a small ultranationalist party, was to take over as prime minister. But if he wants to keep the job, he will have to maintain an unwieldy coalition of parties from the political right, left and center.

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The eight parties, including a small Arab faction, the Ra’am party, that is making history by sitting in the ruling coalition, are united in their opposition to Netanyahu and new elections but agree on little else. They are likely to pursue a modest agenda that seeks to reduce tensions with the Palestinians and maintain good relations with the US without launching any major initiatives.

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Netanyahu ‘will continue to cast a shadow’

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Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, remains the head of the largest party in parliament and is expected to vigorously oppose the new government. If just one faction bolts, it could lose its majority and would be at risk of collapse, giving him an opening to return to power.

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But Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, said the new government will likely be more stable than it appears.

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“Even though it has a very narrow majority, it will be very difficult to topple and replace because the opposition is not cohesive,” he said. Each party in the coalition will want to prove that it can deliver, and for that they need “time and achievements.”

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Still, Netanyahu “will continue to cast a shadow,” Plesner said. He expects the incoming opposition leader to exploit events and propose legislation that right-wing coalition members would like to support but can’t — all in order to embarrass and undermine them.

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Return of normalcy?

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The new government is meanwhile promising a return to normalcy after a tumultuous two years that saw four elections, an 11-day Gaza war last month and a coronavirus outbreak that devastated the economy before it was largely brought under control by a successful vaccination campaign.

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The driving force behind the coalition is Yair Lapid, a political centrist who will become prime minister in two years, if the government lasts that long.

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Netanyahu’s supporters have held angry protests outside the homes of rival lawmakers, who say they have received death threats naming their family members. Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service issued a rare public warning about the incitement earlier this month, saying it could lead to violence.

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Netanyahu has condemned the incitement while noting that he has also been a target.

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Netanyahu’s place in history secure

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His place in Israeli history is secure, having served as prime minister for a total of 15 years — more than any other, including the country’s founder, David Ben-Gurion.

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Netanyahu began his long rule by defying the Obama administration, refusing to freeze colony construction as it tried unsuccessfully to revive the peace process. Relations with Israel’s closest ally grew even rockier when Netanyahu vigorously campaigned against President Barack Obama’s emerging nuclear deal with Iran, even denouncing it in an address to the US Congress.

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But he suffered few if any consequences from those clashes and was richly rewarded by the Trump administration, which recognised contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, helped broker normalisation agreements with four Arab states and withdrew the US from the Iran deal.

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Netanyahu has portrayed himself as a world-class statesman, boasting of his close ties with Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has also cultivated ties with Arab and African countries that long shunned Israel over its policies toward the Palestinians.

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But he has gotten a far chillier reception from the Biden administration and is widely seen as having undermined the long tradition of bipartisan support for Israel in the United States.

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His reputation as a political magician has also faded at home, where he has become a deeply polarising figure. Critics say he has long pursued a divide-and-conquer strategy that aggravated rifts in Israeli society between Jews and Arabs and between his close ultra-Orthodox allies and secular Jews.

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In November 2019, he was indicted for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes. He refused calls to step down, instead lashing out at the media, judiciary and law enforcement, going so far as to accuse his political opponents of orchestrating an attempted coup. Last year, protesters began holding weekly rallies across the country calling on him to resign.

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Netanyahu remains popular among the hardline nationalists who dominate Israeli politics, but he could soon face a leadership challenge from within his own party. A less polarising Likud leader would stand a good chance of assembling a coalition that is both farther to the right and more stable than the government that is set to be sworn in.

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