JERUSALEM (JTA) — Benjamin Netanyahu in his inaugural address said that Israel is committed to reaching a comprehensive peace with the Arab world.
Hours later the largest Cabinet in Israeli history — 30 ministers and at least another six deputy ministers — was sworn in Tuesday in the Knesset chamber. Lawmakers approved the government along party and coalition lines by a vote of 69 to 45 with five abstentions. The ministers took the oath of office at the end of the nearly six-hour session one at a time as the clock approached midnight.
In his inaugural, the new prime minister said that "We will not let anyone question our right to exist. Israel cannot afford to treat statements against it lightheartedly."
Netanyahu’s address, in which he said he would do whatever it takes to bring captive soldier Gilad Shalit home, was interrupted at several points by angry lawmakers.
Shalit’s parents, as well as the parents of Israeli soldier Nachshon Wachsman, who was kidnapped and killed in 1996, attended the swearing-in.
In his final address, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Knesset, "I haven’t a shred of bitterness or of anger. I’m stepping down with pride, with my head held high and with a deep sense of gratitude for the privilege I have had to lead the State of Israel."
Olmert defended his tenure, saying that both the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and the recent Gaza operation were necessary, and that the Lebanon War’s outcome was positive; that his government’s peace efforts were recognized by the international community; and that his fiscal policy bolstered the economy. He also asserted that his Kadima Party, led by Tzipi Livni, would be a responsible opposition.
In a bit of last-minute drama, Silvan Shalom, Netanyahu’s chief party rival, agreed in negotiations immediately before the swearing-in to enter the government as vice premier and regional development minister. Shalom wanted the Foreign Ministry portfolio or another high-profile position, and had threatened to stay out of the government if he did not receive one. Moshe Ya’alon also holds the position of vice premier.