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Netanyahu Vows to Return to Power      06/13 09:32

   

   JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is vowing to 
lead his Likud Party back to power.

   Netanyahu is slated to become opposition leader later Sunday when parliament 
is expected to approve a vote of confidence in a new coalition formed by his 
opponents.

   In a speech to parliament, Netanyahu made clear he has no plans on giving up 
leadership of the Likud Party.

   He vowed to "continue the great mission of my life, ensuring the security of 
Israel."

   "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 in our way," he said.

   THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP's earlier story follows below.

   Israel is set to swear in a new government on Sunday that will send Prime 
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into the opposition after a record 12 years in 
office and a political crisis that sparked four elections in two years.

   Naftali Bennett, the head of a small ultranationalist party, will 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.

   The eight parties, including a small Arab faction 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 U.S. without launching any major initiatives.

   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.

   The country's deep divisions were on vivid display as Bennett addressed 
parliament ahead of the vote. He was repeatedly interrupted and loudly heckled 
by supporters of Netanyahu, several of whom were escorted out of the chamber.

   Bennett's speech mostly dwelled on domestic issues, but he expressed 
opposition to U.S. efforts to revive Iran's nuclear deal with world powers.

   "Israel will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons," Bennett 
said, vowing to maintain Netanyahu's confrontational policy. "Israel will not 
be a party to the agreement and will continue to preserve full freedom of 
action."

   Bennett nevertheless thanked President Joe Biden and the U.S. for its 
decades of support for Israel.

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

   "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."

   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.

   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.

   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.

   Israel's parliament, known as the Knesset, will convene to vote on the new 
government at 4 p.m. (1300 GMT). It is expected to win a narrow majority in the 
120-member assembly, after which it will be sworn in. The government plans to 
hold its first official meeting later this evening.

   It's unclear if Netanyahu will attend the ceremony or when he will move out 
of the official residence. He has lashed out at the new government in 
apocalyptic terms and accused Bennett of defrauding voters by running as a 
right-wing stalwart and then partnering with the left.

   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.

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

   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.

   Netanyahu began his long rule by defying the Obama administration, refusing 
to freeze settlement 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 U.S. Congress.

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

   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.

   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.

   His reputation as a political magician has also faded at home, where he has 
become a deeply polarizing 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.

   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.

   Netanyahu remains popular among the hard-line nationalists who dominate 
Israeli politics, but he could soon face a leadership challenge from within his 
own party. A less polarizing 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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