Hours before a vote to oust him, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused President Biden of endangering Israel’s security by taking a soft line on Iran, and claimed the man who is about to replace him, Naftali Bennett, would be too weak to stand up to Washington.
Why it matters: Netanyahu had waged a desperate but apparently unsuccessful campaign to stop a “change coalition” from joining together to replace him after an inconclusive election in March. Facing an imminent demotion to opposition leader, he foreshadowed a willingness to damage the U.S.-Israel relationship to put his rival under pressure.
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“He decided to damage the U.S.-Israel relationship for his own personal interests and is trying to leave scorched earth for the incoming government.”
Senior Israeli diplomat on Netanyahu
Driving the news: Bennett, a right-wing former tech entrepreneur, will lead the most ideologically diverse coalition in Israeli history, with its members united by little more than a desire to remove Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption and battled through what seemed like a never ending cycle of elections over the past two years.
Bennett spoke before Netanyahu, but as he was trying to present his platform, allies of Netanyahu continuously interrupted him with shouts of “liar” and “fraud.”
Bennett took a hard line on the Iran deal in his speech, saying it was a mistake in 2015 and remains one today. He also thanked Biden for his support for Israel, stressed that he wants good relations with both parties in Washington, and drew a contrast with Netanyahu by promising that any disagreements with Biden will be managed with “mutual trust and respect.”
Bennett’s coalition partner, centrist Yair Lapid, forwent his opportunity to speak next, citing the interruptions during Bennett’s speech, which he said were a disgrace.
Then Netanyahu rose to speak. He accused Bennett of being weak and untrustworthy (noting that he’d broken a campaign pledge by forming a government with Lapid), and said his protege-turned-rival would refuse to stand up to Biden on Iran.
Netanyahu claimed that the Biden administration had asked him to keep their disagreements on Iran private, but that he refused to do so, valuing his hard line on Iran over smooth relations with the U.S.
Netanyahu positioned himself as the only man standing between Iran and an arsenal of nuclear weapons, and claimed Iranians were celebrating his departure. He also compared Biden’s Iran policy to the refusal of the U.S. to bomb the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944.
He also said he’d rejected U.S. demands to freeze settlement construction and opposed Biden’s plan to reopen the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, which handled relations with the Palestinians before being shut down by Donald Trump. Again, he claimed Bennett lacked the stature or credibility to take similar stands.
Between the lines: Despite Bennett’s right-wing politics and hardline positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, many senior officials in the Biden administration will be be happy to see the end of Netanyahu’s tenure.
What’s next: The Bennett-Lapid power-sharing government faces a confidence vote late on Sunday.
Go deeper: Netanyahu rejects Trump comparisons, pledges peaceful transition of power
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