Bennett, a right-wing Jewish nationalist and former tech millionaire, will take over at the helm of the eight-party bloc, united only by their shared disdain for the hawkish right-wing leader known as Bibi.
In a Knesset speech before the vote, the 49-year-old Bennett promised the new government, a coalition of ideologically divergent parties, “represents all of Israel.”
A motley alliance of Israeli parties on Sunday ousted Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving prime minister, and formed a new government in a seismic shift in the country’s turbulent politics.
Naftali Bennett, a right-wing Jewish nationalist and former tech millionaire, was to take over at the helm of the eight-party bloc, united only by their shared disdain for the hawkish right-wing leader known as Bibi.
Netanyahu, 71, in typically combative style, vowed shortly before his defeat that “if it’s our destiny to be in the opposition, we’ll do so with our heads high until we take down this bad government and return to lead the country our way”.
Beloved as “King Bibi” by his right-wing supporters and condemned as the “crime minister” by his critics, Netanyahu has long been the dominant, and increasingly divisive, figure in Israeli politics.
But on Sunday, a vote in the Knesset legislature following weeks of intense political drama ended his government with a razor-thin majority of 60 to 59 in the 120-seat chamber.
In Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, Netanyahu’s opponents broke out in cheers and launched into an evening of joyous celebrations, having rallied in recent days with “Bye bye Bibi” placards.
One of the demonstrators, Tal Surkis, 19, confessed to “mixed feelings” about the incoming change coalition, but said “it’s something Israel needs”.
Bennett, 49, in a Knesset speech before the vote, promised the new government, a coalition of ideologically divergent parties, “represents all of Israel”.
He said the country, after four inconclusive elections in under two years, had been thrown “into a maelstrom of hatred and in-fighting”.
“The time has come for different leaders, from all parts of the population, to stop, to stop this madness”, he said, to angry shouts of “liar” and “criminal” from right-wing opponents.
Netanyahu, who is battling corruption charges in an ongoing trial he dismisses as a conspiracy, has been the dominant Israeli politician of his generation, having also served a previous three-year term in the 1990s.
His supporters have hailed him as a strong defender of Israel who has been tough on arch foe Iran, but also struck a series of historic normalisation deals with several Arab nations last year.
Being ousted from the top job will leave Netanyahu more exposed to his legal woes, because it denies him the chance to push through parliament changes to basic laws that could give him immunity.
Bennett, a former defence minister under Netanyahu, vowed to keep Israel safe from Iran, promising that “Israel won’t let Iran have nuclear weapons” — a goal the Islamic republic denies pursuing.
Netanyahu, true to his reputation as Israel’s “Mr Security”, charged that “Iran is celebrating” the launch of what he charged would be a “dangerous” and weak left-wing government.
The diverse anti-Netanyahu bloc was cobbled together by the secular centrist Yair Lapid, a former TV presenter.
It spans the political spectrum, including three right-wing, two centrist and two left-wing parties, along with an Arab Islamic conservative party.
Lapid, 57, is to serve as foreign minister for the next two years before taking over from Bennett.
The improbable alliance emerged weeks after an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, and following inter-communal violence in Israeli cities with significant Arab populations.
Netanyahu, who long ago earned a reputation as Israel’s ultimate political survivor, in his final days in office tried to peel off defectors, hoping to deprive the nascent coalition of its wafer-thin legislative majority, to no avail.
He accused Bennett of “fraud” for siding with rivals, and angry rallies by the premier’s Likud party supporters resulted in security being bolstered for some lawmakers.
Netanyahu’s opponents accused him and his allies of stoking tensions in a “scorched-earth” campaign.
Netanyahu’s bombastic remarks as he saw his grip on power slip drew parallels at home and abroad to former US president Donald Trump, who described his election loss last year as the result of a rigged vote.
Sunday’s vote came at a time of heightened tensions in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, which has grown more bitter in the Netanyahu years, in part due to the expansion of settlements considered illegal under international law in the occupied West Bank.
Meanwhile, right-wing anger has grown in Israel over last week’s postponement of a controversial Jewish nationalist march through flashpoint areas of east Jerusalem.
The “March of the Flags” is now slated for Tuesday, and the agitation surrounding it could represent a key initial test for a new coalition government.
Gaza’s rulers Hamas said that the political developments in Jerusalem wouldn’t change its relationship with Israel.
“The form the Israeli government takes doesn’t change the nature of our relationship,” said the group’s spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.
“It’s still a colonising and occupying power that we must resist.”
Israel was approaching the end of an era after the last-minute formation of a motley coalition that could in the next few days oust veteran leader Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving prime minister.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid announced the deal just minutes before a midnight Wednesday deadline, prompting celebrations into the early hours by the premier’s opponents and a defiant show of support by his fans.
On paper, the prospective coalition commands a slender majority in parliament but a confidence vote is not expected for several days, giving Netanyahu time to woo potential defectors among the unlikely bedfellows ranged against him.
With the threat of possible jail time hanging over him in his ongoing trial on corruption charges, the 71-year-old is unlikely to allow his record 12 straight years to end without a messy fight, analysts warned.
On Thursday, the master political operator was already on Twitter, seeking to play on any last-minute misgivings among right-wing lawmakers about allying with the left against him.
“All lawmakers who were elected with votes from the right must oppose this dangerous left-wing government,” he said.
On Twitter, Netanyahu’s Likud party called on former right-wing allies to “immediately withdraw” their signatures.
The new coalition would see the religious-nationalist Naftali Bennett serve as prime minister for two years before Lapid, a secular centrist, would take the helm.
Should last-minute defections scupper the “change” alliance, Israel would likely have to hold yet another election, the fifth in just over two years.
“Opening the champagne right now is a bit hasty,” said Tamar Hermann, a political scientist at the Israel Democracy Institute.
– ‘I succeeded’ – Lapid, 57, a former TV presenter who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party, put his own prime ministerial ambitions on hold to broker the coalition deal.
“I succeeded,” he proclaimed, less than an hour before the deadline.
“I promise that this government will work in the service of all of the citizens of Israel, those who voted for it and those who did not,” he wrote on Facebook.
The announcement capped four frenzied weeks of negotiations since President Reuven Rivlin tasked Lapid with trying to form a government after Netanyahu failed.
Bennett, 49, an estranged former protege of Netanyahu, was the linchpin of the deal to unseat him.
On Sunday, Bennett, head of the far-right Yamina bloc, announced he would join Lapid to end the “madness”.
On the right, the new coalition includes the hawkish New Hope party of Netanyahu’s former ally Gideon Saar, and secular nationalist Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party.
Also part of the alliance are the Labor party, the dovish Meretz party, and the centrist Blue and White party of Defence Minister Benny Gantz.
For the first time in Israeli’s history, the embryonic coalition also includes an Arab Israeli party, the Islamic conservative party Raam.
It released pictures of its leader Mansour Abbas signing a coalition agreement alongside Bennett, a staunch supporter of the Jewish settler movement.
Speaking on army radio Thursday, Abbas said: “We obtained the legitimacy to influence the Israeli political system and not just to be present there in the Knesset.”
Raam previously ran as part of the Arab-led Joint List but broke away over differences with its communist and Arab nationalist members. Joint List lawmaker Aida Touma-Sliman said she would oppose the new deal because “getting rid of Netanyahu and keeping his path is a political mistake.”
– Emulate Trump? – Allies of Netanyahu lashed out at the coalition.
Far-right lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionism party, attacked the coalition’s dependence on the votes of Arab lawmakers and accused Bennett of cooperating with “a terrorism supporter who identifies with Israel’s enemies”.
Yamina member Matan Kahana hit back, telling public radio: “I’m convinced this government will be even more right-wing than the government of Netanyahu.”
Netanyahu’s son Yair called Bennett “filth” in a tweet.
Netanyahu biographer Ben Caspit predicted the incumbent would fight the new government tooth and nail, doing everything he could to block its formation and then battling it from the opposition benches if necessary.
Caspit said Netanyahu could try to emulate his ally, former US president Donald Trump, who gave an incendiary address to supporters before they launched a deadly raid on the US Capitol.
“He is trying to burn it all,” Caspit said of Netanyahu. “He still thinks he will succeed against all odds.”
Washington on Thursday assured it would remain a staunch ally of the Jewish state regardless of who is in power.
“Regardless of what happens, regardless of what government is in place, our stalwart support, our ironclad support for Israel will remain,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Israel elected the even-keeled Labor veteran Isaac Herzog as its 11th president Wednesday, a parliamentary vote that coincidentally fell as opposition lawmakers scrambled to forge a coalition to unseat Benjamin Netanyahu.
Herzog, 60, beat former headmistress Miriam Peretz to replace President Reuven Rivlin, who was elected in 2014 to the largely ceremonial position.
Wednesday’s presidential vote came as Israeli politicians from across the spectrum were holding 11th-hour negotiations to cobble together a new administration aimed at ending Prime Minister Netanyahu’s 12 straight years in office.
The Israeli presidency exerts little power, primarily meeting with party leaders after legislative elections and tasking candidates with forming governments. It is the country’s prime minister who wields actual executive authority.
But the president does have the ability to grant pardons — a potentially important function as Netanyahu faces trial for alleged fraud, bribery and breach of trust.
Herzog, who will assume his position on July 9, succeeded over Peretz, 67, a former headmistress who lost two children in Israel’s wars and is known as “the mother of sons”.
The scion of one of Israel’s most prestigious families, Herzog was first elected to parliament in 2003 but was most recently leading the para-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel, an organisation focused on relations with Jewish immigrants and the diaspora.
His election on the day that could see Netanyahu’s rivals make moves to take him down is fitting: in 2015 Herzog carried out a bid to oust the premier, presenting himself as a modest, diplomatic contrast to the bombastic “Bibi”.
The son of Chaim Herzog — Israel’s sixth president and a former ambassador to the United Nations — and nephew of the famed diplomat and statesman Abba Eban, the new president supports the two-state solution to the conflict with Palestinians.
During his 2015 campaign, he vowed to relaunch a peace process, even saying he was prepared to “remove” Israeli settlements if necessary.
When Israel this month holds its fourth election in less than two years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hope goodwill from a world-beating Covid vaccination campaign can finally secure him an elusive majority government.
The last time Israelis went to the polls just a year ago, they delivered a result that had already become familiar: neither the right-wing Netanyahu nor his centrist challenger Benny Gantz had enough support for a parliamentary majority.
The world, and Israeli politics, have since been upended by the pandemic. Just weeks after the last election, Israel entered the first of three coronavirus lockdowns.
In May, Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving premier, and Gantz formed a unity government, declaring that the public health threat required political stability.
But their coalition, which had been set to last three years, collapsed in December when Netanyahu’s refusal to approve a 2021 budget forced new elections, to be held on March 23.
Netanyahu, a wily political veteran, is now hoping he can sneak over the line thanks to the inoculation drive.
The 71-year-old also hopes for a boost from having clinched historic normalisation deals with four Arab states — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — agreements he claims mark a new era in the Middle East.
But despite Netanyahu’s apparent successes, polls point to another indecisive result, with the premier so far lacking a clear path to form a government.
– ‘Vaccine nation’ –
Israel, a country of about nine million people, has given the two recommended jabs of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to around four million residents, an inoculation pace envied by many nations.
Netanyahu has been happy to take the credit for boldly reaching out early to drug-makers with approved vaccines.
“Do you know how many presidents and prime ministers call Pfizer and Moderna? They don’t answer. But when it’s me, they take the call,” he said days ago.
“I convinced them that Israel would be a model country to roll out the vaccine: who else will do that? Definitely not (Yair) Lapid, (Naftali) Bennett and Gideon (Saar),” he proclaimed, referring to his main election challengers.
Israel secured a large vaccine stock from Pfizer because its highly digitised medical system enabled it to offer the company fast, precious data on the product’s impact.
Netanyahu has repeatedly visited vaccination centres and adopted the phrase “Vaccine Nation”, a play on the “Start-up Nation” tag Israel acquired because of its burgeoning high-tech sector.
But some voters also blame Netanyahu for the painful lockdowns.
His political allies, ultra-Orthodox Jews, have flouted restrictions — often with a muted police response — fuelling transmission while many other citizens were following the rules.
– Right-wing pitch –
As the vaccine edges Israel out of the pandemic, its political landscape is shifting.
Gantz’s supporters punished him for entering a Netanyahu-led government and his fractured Blue and White party may not even get enough votes to qualify for parliament.
Netanyahu’s former partner, Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party, has emerged as his main challenger, polls show.
And a former prominent member of Netanyahu’s Likud, Gideon Saar, has formed his own party to run against the premier.
Seeking to make up any lost ground, Netanyahu has tried to appeal to Arab voters, despite having disparaged them in past campaigns and backing a 2018 law that downgraded Arabic’s status as an official language.
For all that has changed since the last election, a single question for voters has again dominated this year’s campaign: are you for Netanyahu or against him?
The electorate is “divided between those who want Netanyahu to continue to another term in office and those who hope to see him finally head home”, the head of the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank, Yohanan Plesner, told AFP.
Seeking to shore up his right-wing support in the campaign’s final days, Netanyahu on Sunday visited Kfar Etzion, a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.
Settlers, who live in communities widely regarded as illegal under international law, are also being courted by Netanyahu’s right-wing rivals, Saar and Bennett.
Netanyahu recalled visiting Kfar Etzion in its early days, some 50 years ago, and lauded the “wonderful pioneering activity” of his audience.
He warned voters that straying from Likud would be a “terrible mistake” that could produce a left-wing government.
“Vote Likud,” he told them. “We will create a strong, stable, right wing government.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied corruption charges during a brief court appearance Monday, as his graft trial resumed weeks ahead of a fourth national election within two years.
Netanyahu, the first Israeli premier to be indicted in office, was formally charged last year over allegations of accepting improper gifts and seeking to trade regulatory favour with media moguls in exchange for positive coverage.
He had been compelled to appear in person to respond to the charges, after last month formally submitting his innocent plea in writing.
“I confirm the written answer submitted in my name,” Israel’s longest-serving premier said, after Jerusalem court judge Rivka Feldman Friedman asked his response to the charges against him.
Netanyahu was referring to a January 18 court filing from his defence team which said: “the prime minister denies all charges” in each of the three separate cases against him.
The combative 71-year-old premier, who has previously blasted the charges as “fabricated and ludicrous”, spent just 20 minutes at Monday’s hearing, entering and exiting amid a heavy security deployment and dozens of protesters.
Netanyahu has repeatedly claimed that he is the victim of a witch-hunt.
– Further delay? – The hearing continued in his absence for several hours, with defence lawyers Boaz Ben Zur and Amit Hadad accusing Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit — a Netanyahu appointee — of mishandling the case.
They argued that elements of the investigation were opened without required authorisations.
The three-judge panel later released a ruling saying they would examine that complaint before moving forward with the prosecution’s case.
That could result in a delay that keeps Netanyahu out of court until after the March 23 election.
When Netanyahu last appeared in court nine months ago, he had just won a political victory by forming a coalition government with election rival Benny Gantz, following three inconclusive national polls.
But the fraught coalition proved short-lived and collapsed in December, with Gantz branding Netanyahu as serially dishonest.
It is unclear whether the cloud of the trial will hurt the premier’s re-election chances in March.
Israel’s parliament speaker Yariv Levin, a Netanyahu loyalist from his right-wing Likud party, insisted the court must postpone the trial.
Proceeding now “will be lending a hand to blatant meddling in the elections”, he told the right-wing Israel Hayom newspaper on Sunday.
Several recent polls place the Likud comfortably in the lead, but it is far from certain that it will be able to form a 61-seat majority with its conservative and religious allies.
– 4,000, 2,000, 1,000 – The charges against Netanyahu are divided into three separate cases.
The most serious, in which the premier is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, centres on the allegation that he negotiated with Shaul Elovitch of telecommunications giant Bezeq to secure positive coverage on his Walla! news site in exchange for policies benefiting Bezeq.
Elovitch and his wife were also indicted in what is known as Case 4,000.
Case 2,000 concerns allegations Netanyahu sought a deal with the owner of the Yediot Aharonot newspaper that would have seen it give him more favourable coverage.
Case 1,000 involves allegations Netanyahu and his family received gifts, including luxury cigars, champagne and jewellery estimated to be worth more than 700,000 shekels ($213,000) from wealthy individuals, in exchange for financial or personal favours.
He would be forced to resign if convicted with all appeals exhausted, but that process would likely take several years.
Weekly protests against him have rumbled on for months, with some demonstrators focusing on the graft allegations.
Some protesters met Netanyahu’s motorcade outside the court on Monday, carrying placards bearing the words “Crime Minister”, while others taunted him as he entered and left the court.
“We are here to swipe (away) all the dirt and all the corruption that he has created,” protester Claudia Manoquian told AFP.
Israel’s prime minister on Monday directed authorities to approve construction of 800 new homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank days before President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel administration leaves office.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has directed that plans be advanced for the construction of about 800 units in Judea and Samaria,” a statement from the premier’s office said, using biblical terms for the West Bank.
President-elect Joe Biden, who will be sworn in next week, has indicated that his administration will restore US policy opposing settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian Territories.
Trump’s administration gave unprecedented US support to settler groups, highlighted by a declaration from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2019 that Washington no longer viewed settlements as being in violation of international law.
Pompeo in November also became the first top US diplomat to visit a settlement in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War.
Netanyahu is facing re-election on March 23, Israel’s fourth vote in just under two years.
A series of recent of polls indicate the veteran prime minister is facing a strong right-wing challenge from pro-settler candidate Gideon Saar, who defected from Netanyahu’s Likud party last month to run against the premier.
Netanyahu is widely expected to make a series of plays for right-wing votes, including by bolstering his pro-settlement credentials, before the vote, according to Israeli political analysts.
The statement from Netanyahu’s office said that 100 of the new units were to be built in the Tal Menashe settlement, where French-Israeli Esther Horgen was murdered last month.
Israel’s security services have said the settler was murdered by Palestinian Mohammed Cabha, claiming he had political motives for her killing related to the occupation.
Netanyahu’s order to advance settlement construction is not final, with the process having to clear several bureaucratic phases and possible legal challenges from anti-occupation groups before any construction begins.
There are currently some 450,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, living amid an estimated 2.8 million Palestinians.
All Jewish settlements in the West Bank are regarded as illegal by much of the international community.
Israel was set Sunday to begin its third coronavirus lockdown, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced optimism that a “world record” vaccination drive will restore a degree of normality within weeks.
After a sharp rebound in detected infections, Netanyahu’s government announced three days ago that it would re-impose the strict measures that had previously helped limit transmission.
From 5:00pm (1500 GMT) on Sunday, most people will be forced to stay within 1,000 metres of their home.
There are a range of exceptions, including seeking medical care, attending legal proceedings or exercising.
A key difference in Israel’s third lockdown compared to previous versions relates to schools, with more students able to attend classes.
Instead of near total closures, Israel is keeping schools open for children under six, as well as grades one to four and teenagers finishing secondary school in grades 11 and 12.
Israel’s National Council for the Child criticised the decision to close grades five through 10.
“The decision to ignore this age bracket means the abandonment of hundreds of thousands of children, only because in theory they can be left at home alone while (their parents) go to work,” NCC head Vered Windman was quoted as saying by the Ma’ariv newspaper.
“But this is precisely the age group that is at a higher risk of developing emotional difficulties, fears and isolation.”
– ‘World record’ –
Speaking late Saturday following Shabbat, Netanyahu said Israel was hoping to vaccinate a quarter of its population, or roughly 2.25 million people, against coronavirus within a month.
He said he had spoken with the heads of the companies making vaccines who had voiced confidence that the requisite number of doses could be provided.
Israel’s vaccination targets are of “such a magnitude (they amount to) a world record” pace, the prime minister said.
Netanyahu was the first Israeli to receive a Covid-19 jab on December 19, ahead of the launch last week of a nationwide innoculation programme.
The premier has political incentives to push an accelerated vaccination campaign.
The fraught coalition government that he formed in May with his former election rival and current defence minister, Benny Gantz, collapsed last week, triggering elections in March — Israel’s fourth vote in two years.
Netanyahu’s election campaign could be hindered by the start of a more intensified phase of his long-awaited corruption trial and the departure of his staunch ally US President Donald Trump from the White House.
Political analysts have said that Netanyahu is hoping a rapid vaccination drive will put Israel’s pandemic-wracked economy on a path to recovery before election day.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a Covid-19 vaccine jab on Saturday, kicking off a national rollout over the coming days.
Netanyahu, 71, and Israel’s health minister were injected with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine live on TV at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv.
“I asked to be vaccinated first, together with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, to serve as personal examples and encourage you to be vaccinated,” Netanyahu told the television audience.
Each recipient must receive a booster shot in three weeks for optimal protection from the novel coronavirus.
Latest Israeli health ministry figures reported over 370,000 people had tested positive for the virus since the Jewish state, a country of around nine million, confirmed its first case in February.
Just over 3,000 people have died.
The vaccine will be rolled out at 10 hospitals and vaccination centres around Israel for healthcare workers from Sunday, according to the health ministry.
During the course of the week, a ministry statement said, vaccinations will be extended to the general public, starting with those aged over 60.
Netanyahu spent Monday to Friday in self-isolation after coming into contact with a confirmed coronavirus patient, despite testing negative for the virus on Sunday and again on Monday.
Ten days ago, he was at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport to welcome a first batch of the vaccine.
The shipment was the first of eight million doses Israel has ordered from US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
The vaccine needs to be stored at the ultra-low temperature of -70 degrees Celsius (-94 Fahrenheit), posing handling and storage challenges.
Other countries have begun rolling out the vaccine already.
Britain started inoculating its citizens with the same vaccine on December 8.
It has since been approved by the United States, Canada and, on Saturday, Switzerland.
US Vice President Mike Pence got the jab live on television Friday, while President-elect Joe Biden is set to receive his shot on Monday.
President Donald Trump has made it clear he is not planning to take the vaccine imminently, citing the belief that his recovery from a brief but severe bout of Covid-19 has given him immunity.
Israel has also contracted to buy six million Covid-19 vaccine doses from US biotech firm Moderna, which are expected to be delivered in 2021, giving a total of 14 million shots.
Hug for grandma
Israel imposed a second nationwide lockdown in September, when the country had one of the world’s highest per capita infection rates.
Restrictions have since been gradually eased, but case numbers are again on the rise, with a further clampdown predicted.
Netanyahu said receiving the vaccine was a first step toward a return to normality.
“On the way here I thought about the children worried about their parents, the grandchildren who want to hug grandma and grandpa — not a Zoom hug but a real hug,” he said.
“We will be able to go to football grounds, to see basketball games and, of course, to reopen the country and restore it to what it was, to go back to the normal life that we desire.”
The Palestinian territories have also seen a spike in Covid-19 cases in recent weeks.
On Thursday, the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority announced stricter restrictions, including the closure of schools and universities, for two weeks to combat the virus’ spread.
Last week, PA president Mahmud Abbas announced that Christmas mass in Bethlehem, where Christians believe Jesus was born, would be closed to the public this year due to the pandemic.
The Israeli-occupied West Bank, with a Palestinian population of more than 2.8 million, has officially recorded over 88,000 coronavirus infections, including 869 deaths, according to the Palestinian health ministry’s Saturday update.
In the Gaza Strip, with around two million inhabitants, there have been over 33,000 cases, with 248 deaths.
Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi has said that Israel might provide vaccinations for Palestinians once it has vaccinated its own priority groups, such as frontline health providers.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday hailed as “historic” a normalisation agreement with Morocco and anticipated direct flights between the two countries soon.
In a televised address, he thanked Moroccan King Mohammed VI “for taking this historic decision to bring an historic peace between us”.
Netanyahu said the people of Israel and Morocco have had a “warm relationship in the modern period”.
“We will resume liaison offices quickly between Israel and Morocco and work as rapidly as possible to establish full diplomatic relations,” Netanyahu said.
Morocco and Israel had respectively maintained liaison offices in Tel Aviv and Rabat in the 1990s, before closing them in 2000.
“We’ll also institute direct flights… giving this bridge of peace an even more solid foundation,” the premier said.
Netanyahu also alluded to a “tremendous friendship shown by the kings of Morocco and the people of Morocco to the Jewish community there.”
He said the hundreds of thousands Moroccan Jews who immigrated to Israel “formed a human bridge” between the countries.
In the 1950s and 60s, Jews from Iraq, Yemen and Morocco migrated to the Jewish state, where key posts were in the hands of Ashkenazi Jews, who hail from Europe.
Called Mizrahim, Jewish migrants from Arab states settled outside big cities and felt excluded at the time by the Israeli left-wing, which was then in power.
But at the end of the 1970s, Likud, now the right-wing ruling party of Netanyahu, courted their vote to form another electoral base.
“I’ve always believed that this historic day would come,” Netanyahu said, before lighting a candle for the Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah, which began Thursday.
After the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, Morocco is the fourth Arab state since August to commit to establishing diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
The agreement between Israel and Morocco was announced Thursday by US President Donald Trump, who also said the US would recognise Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
Netanyahu thanked Trump for “his extraordinary efforts to bring peace to Israel and the peoples of the Middle East”.
– ‘Political sin’ – Islamist Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian coastal enclave, quickly slammed the deal between Israel and Morocco.
“It is a political sin that does not serve the Palestinian cause and encourages the occupation to continue to deny the rights of our people,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem, told AFP, referring to Israel.
He accused Israel of “exploiting” normalisation deals to justify “increasing its settlements”
Over the past decade — particularly under Trump, whose policies have been highly favourable to Israel — there has been a significant expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
More than 450,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank, home to about 2.8 million Palestinians.
Settlement expansion is widely seen as complicating the prospects for a “two-state solution”, which would see a viable Palestinian state created alongside Israel.