In his apparently final speech as prime minister of Israel before a new government is sworn in Sunday evening, Benjamin Netanyahu unleashed his fury on prime minister-designate Naftali Bennett and vowed to work tirelessly to topple the new coalition.
“I will fight daily against this terrible, dangerous left-wing government in order to topple it,” Netanyahu said at the conclusion of his lengthy speech in the Knesset plenum. “With God’s help, it will happen a lot earlier than you think it will.”
In comments warning Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah that he is not going anywhere, he declared in English: “We’ll be back soon!”
Netanyahu spoke for more than half an hour, well beyond the 15 minutes allotted to him, rattling off a lengthy list of accomplishments in office, slamming Bennett, and vowing to lead a combative opposition. He labeled Bennett’s Yamina party and the New Hope party as “fake right” and accused them of betraying the will of the voters in joining a government with centrist, left-wing and Arab parties.
Netanyahu asserted that Bennett will not and cannot counter the existential threat posed by Iran.
“I’ve heard what Bennett said [about standing firm against Iran], and I’m concerned, because Bennett does the opposite of what he promises,” Netanyahu said. “He will fight Iran the same way he won’t sit with [Yesh Atid leader Yair] Lapid, Labor and Ra’am.
“Bennett does not have the international standing, he doesn’t have the credibility, he doesn’t have the capabilities, he doesn’t have the knowledge and he doesn’t have the governmental support to allow him a real defense [against Iran],” Netanyahu continued. “Among all the differences between us and the incoming government, this is the most important and most fateful difference to the future of Israel.”
“The prime minister of Israel needs to be able to say no to the president of the United States on issues that threaten our existence,” Netanyahu went on, noting his own controversial 2015 speech to a joint session of Congress in opposition to the Iran deal — which was arranged without the support of then-president Barack Obama and boycotted by many Democratic members of Congress. “Who will do that now? Prime Minister Yair Lapid?… This government does not want and is not capable of opposing the United States.”
Netanyahu proclaimed that a government “that is not able to stand up to the international community on issues that determine our fate is not fit to lead Israel for even one day — and this is the incoming government!”
“Even in Iran they understand this — it’s no surprise that they are celebrating today,” he continued. “They are celebrating because they understand that starting today there will be a weak and unstable government that will align with the dictates of the international community.”
Netanyahu said that he had a message for Iran as well as for Hezbollah and Hamas: “The opposition in Israel will have a clear and strong voice.”
In a repeatedly interrupted speech before Netanyahu spoke in the Knesset, Bennett had expressed staunch opposition to an American return to the 2015 nuclear deal. Bennett said the Iranian nuclear program “is approaching a critical point” and “Israel will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.
“Israel is not a party to the [international nuclear] deal and will maintain full freedom to act,” Bennett said.
In a message to Washington, Bennett added: “Renewing the nuclear deal is a mistake.”
The outgoing prime minister also aired some of his disagreements with the Biden administration.
“The new US administration requested that I save our disagreements on the Iran nuclear deal for behind closed doors, and not share them publicly,” Netanyahu said. “I told them I won’t act that way.” Netanyahu compared the US efforts to reenter the Iran nuclear deal to the decision by then-US president Franklin Roosevelt not to bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz in 1944.
“We waited for salvation from others, and it didn’t come. Against the threat of annihilation, we had no savior… we didn’t have a country then and we didn’t have an army,” he said. “But today we have a voice, we have a country and we have a defending force.”
Netanyahu said that the Biden administration has already requested a settlement building freeze in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and he slammed the decision to reopen the US consulate in East Jerusalem that serves Palestinians.
He said the move will “bring the division of Jerusalem back to the agenda. I told our American friends, ‘you want to reopen the consulate, then reopen it — in Abu Dis! Not in sovereign Jerusalem.'”
Netanyahu dedicated a large chunk of his speech to recounting his accomplishments in the past 12 years in office — and in the three years he served as premier before that.
“For more than 15 years I had the privilege of working for my beloved state,” he said. “Our achievements have turned Israel from a marginal state into a rising force in the global stage.” Netanyahu listed his reforms to the economy, lowering taxes, raising the minimum wage, lowering unemployment, as well as developing the Tamar offshore gas platform, preserving Israel’s heritage sites, fighting monopolies and forging normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.
He also proclaimed that his government reduced the “waves of unending terror,” adding: “The statistics don’t lie: fewer citizens and soldiers died in the past 10 years than in any other decade in Israel’s history.”
“And above all that,” Netanyahu added, “before all that, we fought tirelessly against Iran attaining nuclear weapons.”
The threat of a nuclear Iran was one of three challenges Netanyahu listed that will be facing the new government, along with fighting the establishment of a Palestinian state “that will threaten our existence,” and dealing with the economy.
“I have just one, modest request,” he said. “Try to ruin the economy that we are leaving you as little as possible, so that we can fix it as quickly as possible when we return to power.”
The intended Lapid-Bennett government is backed by eight of the 13 parties that won seats in the March 23 election, for an expected total of 61 votes in the 120-member Knesset: Yesh Atid (17 seats), Blue and White (8), Yisrael Beytenu (7), Labor (7), Yamina (6 of its 7 MKs), New Hope (6), Meretz (6) and Ra’am (4). The parties slated to be shunted to the opposition are Netanyahu’s Likud, the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, the far-right Religious Zionism, and the predominantly Arab Joint List.
After the leaders’ speeches, all other parties in the Knesset were being given nine minutes each for a representative to speak from the plenum.
The next order of business will be to vote on a replacement for Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud, who will join his party in the opposition. He is expected to be replaced by Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy.
Levy will then oversee the Knesset vote on establishing the government, which is expected to be approved by a narrow majority. Finally, the prime minister, his alternate and their ministers will be sworn in, committing to “maintain allegiance to the State of Israel and its laws, to faithfully fulfill my role as prime minister/a member of the government and to uphold Knesset resolutions.”