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World reacts to end of Netanyahu era

Benjamin Netanyahu’s record 12-year run as Israel’s prime minister ended on Sunday when new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took the oath of office.

United States President Joe Biden immediately offered congratulations to Israel’s 36th government within minutes, while he conspicuously did not speak to Netanyahu for almost a full month after his own 20 January inauguration.

“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet,” President Biden said in a statement.

“Israel has no better friend than the United States,” the American leader said, underscoring that, “The bond that unites our people is evidence of our shared values and decades of close cooperation.”

Adding that the US “remains unwavering in its support for Israel’s security,” Biden added that, “My administration is fully committed to working with the new Israeli government to advance security, stability, and peace for Israelis, Palestinians, and people throughout the broader region.”

The two leaders also spoke by telephone a short time later.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett thanked President Biden for his warm wishes on the inauguration of the new government, and for his long-standing commitment to the State of Israel and its security.

According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, Bennett also “noted his appreciation for the President, and for his support for Israel during the recent operation in Gaza (Guardian of the Walls),” and said “that he considers him a great friend of the State of Israel.”

“In their conversation, the leaders emphasized the importance of the alliance between Israel and the United States, as well as their commitment to strengthening ties between the two countries, and maintaining the security of the State of Israel,” said the statement.

During his first address to the Knesset, Prime Minister Bennett vowed that his government would pursue good relations with both US Democrats and Republicans.

“The government will make an effort to deepen and enhance our relations with both parties — bipartisan,” he said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was also quick to contact Israeli Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Lapid, offering his “warmly congratulations.” According to the Office of the State Department Spokesperson Ned Price, “The Secretary and the Minister discussed the US commitment to Israel’s security, the importance of maintaining a cessation of hostilities, opportunities to deepen and broaden normalization of diplomatic relations, the threat posed by Iran, and other regional priorities.”

They also “acknowledged the strong partnership between the United States and Israel,” and the Secretary Blinken said he looks forward to welcoming Minister Lapid to Washington soon, “as the two governments work to build an even stronger relationship between our countries and our peoples.”

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also welcomed the continued service of his Israeli counterpart Benny Gantz, who responded on Twitter, saying: “I greatly look forward to continuing the paramount work alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin to protect the steadfast alliance between Israel and the US, the stability of the Middle East, and the safety of our peoples.”

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said “we are hopeful that we can now begin serious negotiations for a Two-State solution.” He said he is now “urging the Biden Administration to do all it can to bring the parties together” and help achieve a resolution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict “where each side can live side by side in peace.”

Other world reactions included a congratulatory statement to the new government from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said that “together, let’s explore ways to further strengthen the relationship” between his nation and Israel.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz tweeted that he is looking forward to working with both Bennett and Lapid, while underscoring that his his nation “is committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will continue to stand by Israel’s side.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also responded on Twitter, writing that her nation and Israel “are connected by a unique friendship that we want to strengthen further,” adding, “With this in mind, I look forward to working closely with you.”

The United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he is looking forward to continued British-Israeli “cooperation on security, trade and climate change, and working together to secure peace in the region,” also in a Tweet.

Former Prime Minister Netanyahu had often been a polarizing figure, both at home and abroad. He had enjoyed a particularly close relationship with equally-polarizing former US President Donald Trump, who recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and Jerusalem as the country’s capital, where he relocated the US Embassy. While resisting international calls for Palestinian statehood – which he described as a danger to Israeli security, Netanyahu worked with Trump to forge formal relations through the Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. Both strongly condemned Iran’s nuclear program, and Netanyahu applauded the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic in 2018.

Prime Minister Bennett also remains staunchly against the prospective US return to the JCPOA in talks currently ongoing in Vienna.

“Renewal of the nuclear agreement with Iran is a mistake, an error that would again grant legitimization to one of the darkest and violent regimes in the world,” Bennett told the Knesset in his first address as Premier, emphasizing that despite a change of leadership, “Israel will not allow Iran to equip itself with nuclear weapons.”

Tehran declared that it does not expect Israeli foreign and security policy to change under its new government.

“Iran’s enemies are gone and powerful Iran is still here,” announced Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh at the end of Netanyahu’s 12 consecutive years in office, according to ISNA news agency, adding, “I don’t think Israel’s policies will change with the new government.”

The Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza were equally pessimistic.

“Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity,” proclaimed Hamas Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, insisting that, “It is an occupation and a colonial entity, which we should resist by force to get our rights back.”

Meanwhile, Israeli citizens are divided over prospects of the diverse new government, which holds a fragile, razor-thin majority in parliament.

“I think it’s very exciting for Israel to have a new beginning and I’m hopeful that the new government will take them in the right direction,” Daphna Kilion told Reuters in Jerusalem.

Differing with that view, Erez Goldman said, “It’s a sad day today, it’s not a legitimate government. It’s pretty sad that almost 86 (out of 120 seats) in the parliament, the Knesset, belong to the right-wing and they sold their soul and ideology and their beliefs to the extreme left-wing just for one purpose – hatred of Netanyahu and to become a prime minister.”

Often referred to by his nickname Bibi, Netanyahu is loved by his supporters and loathed by critics. His ongoing corruption trial – on charges he denies – has only deepened the rift.

As the now head of the Opposition parties, Netanyahu has vowed to topple the new government and return to the premiership.