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Israel Poised To End Prime Minister Netanyahu's Rule In Vote


Israel's Parliament meets today, and it's expected to make history. A coalition of lawmakers is poised to install a new government, the first in 12 years without Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister. Netanyahu has held the job longer than anyone else, a prominent and polarizing right-wing figure on the world stage. His power has waned at home as he's tried to fend off corruption charges. NPR's Deborah Amos is in Jerusalem and joins us to talk about what could be the start of a new era.

Hey, Deb.


DETROW: So the Parliament is meeting. This is underway. There had been some fiery speeches so far. Tell us about it.

AMOS: This may be the preview of the coming era. Political leaders took the political fight to the floor of the Parliament. It was chaos when Naftali Bennett, the man expected to be the new prime minister, started to speak. He was loudly heckled by members of Parliament. They shouted, thief, vote thief, liar. Eventually, ushers escorted out those hecklers. But Bennett's 15-minute talk turned into almost an hour because he couldn't say anything. The interruptions were so loud. Finally, he raised his voice, and he practically shouted, I am proud to sit with people with different opinions, implying that they were not.

Benjamin Netanyahu's speech, the present prime minister, was explosive. He charged that Bennett was a fraud, that he tricked his voters and that this government is dangerous. Netanyahu charged that Iran is happy that Bennett is going to be the prime minister. He'll not be strong enough to stand up to the United States or Iran or the Palestinians, for that matter. Bennett smiled through that attack. His children, who were at Parliament, were sending him heart messages with their hands. Netanyahu then said in English, I will be back. And that's his vow to undermine this fragile coalition at every turn as the leader of the opposition. This is all unprecedented.

DETROW: I will be back. This moment has been building for months or more. Just give us some context on how Israel got to this tense, unprecedented moment.

AMOS: So, you know, for years, Prime Minister Netanyahu has sold himself as the indispensable leader. But there's been four inconclusive elections in the past two years. He wasn't able to cobble together a working government, even as many Israelis wanted to end the term of this divisive prime minister charged with corruption. And I think for him, the challenge is particularly stinging because it comes in part from former political allies, men who even worked for him and then fell out with him or were fired. And that is Naftali Bennett's story. He was - he's poised to be the new prime minister. Others in the coalition are ideological opposites, but they all share one goal, and that is to oust Netanyahu.

DETROW: What has it been like outside of the Knesset in the last few days and as you've made your way there today?

AMOS: So we walked into the Knesset complex, and one group was shouting that Israel would now become an Islamic republic, threatened - they're threatened by this tiny Arab party making up a small slice of the coalition for the first time. These Israelis were blasting the Muslim call to prayer and warning that Jews would not be safe on the streets of Israel. Then on the other side of the street, there were supporters of the new coalition, and they had balloons and they were dancing and they were shouting and they were very happy.

DETROW: That's NPR's Deborah Amos in Jerusalem.

Thank you so much.

AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.