Israel’s New Government Seeks Broad Consensus, Hangs by ThreadPublished on: 27.8.2021
By: David Parsons, ICEJ Vice President & Senior Spokesman
Israel finally has a new government in place, ending Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic 12-year run as prime minister. But the protracted political impasse of the past 30 months is far from over, as the extremely broad coalition may prove unworkable and is hanging on by the thinnest of margins.
Over the past two-and-a-half years, Israel has stumbled through four elections in a political deadlock that has become mystifying. The latest ballot was closer than ever, but the forces of “change” finally ousted Netanyahu in June. The new government, led for now by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, was approved by a single Knesset vote and it remains in constant peril of collapse.
The new ruling coalition consists of eight very diverse parties from right to left held together by their common desire to keep Netanyahu from returning to power. Netanyahu managed an unprecedented run as prime minister because of his diplomatic and economic acumen, his mastery of Israeli politics, and above all his reputation as “Mr. Security.” Most Israelis came to trust him to keep them safe, and for the most part he did. But the scandals surrounding Netanyahu weakened his support on the right, and now a new generation of leaders is taking the reins of power. They are generally younger, forward-looking, and concerned with the well-being of the entire nation.
The incoming coalition was forged around a rotation agreement between Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid. Lapid will serve as foreign minister and alternate prime minister until he takes over the top job in August 2023.
Head of the right-wing Yamina party, Bennett is a former commander of elite IDF units and a successful hi-tech entrepreneur. Born into a secular family, he became religiously observant and more conservative in his views, even heading the Yesha settlements council for a while. He is Israel’s first premier to regularly wear a kippa.
As leader of the centrist Yesh Atid faction, Lapid is a former TV talk show host who entered politics a decade ago to represent young, secular Israelis who resent the inordinate power and favouritism enjoyed by the ultra-Orthodox community.
They are joined in the coalition by former Likud member Gideon Sa’ar of New Hope, Russian strongman Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, former IDF general Benny Gantz of Blue & White, Merav Michaeli of Labour, Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz, and – the unlikeliest of partners – Mansour Abbas of the Arab-Islamist faction Ra’am.
The common denominator between them is a sense that Netanyahu based so many important decisions in recent years not on national interests, but on simply staying in power to gain an advantage – and even immunity – in his ongoing corruption trials. He also has sided with the ultra-Orthodox on many issues, thereby alienating many Israelis as well as much of Diaspora Jewry.
Bennett will focus on getting back to good governance, passing a proper state budget, making decisions by consensus, dealing with societal tensions, and taking all sectors of the populace into consideration.
Meanwhile, Lapid will handle foreign policy. Few expect much movement towards a ‘two-state solution’ with the Palestinians, as it could unravel the fragile coalition. Rather, Lapid’s main efforts will be on building ties with the Biden administration and European Union, and repairing the breach with the progressive Left, beginning with American Jewish leaders. The Bennett-Lapid government also will try to continue the momentum of the Abraham Accords towards normalisation with the Arab world.
No doubt those regional accords influenced Ra’am to become the first Arab party to sit as full-fledged members of an Israeli cabinet. Netanyahu legitimised such a move by first reaching out to Mansour Abbas ahead of the last election, but he eventually chose to go with the ‘change’ movement, putting the Bennett-Lapid alignment over the top by one seat.
This has now put Netanyahu and the Likud party in the unfamiliar position of sitting in the Opposition, and they are vowing to bring down the Bennett-Lapid coalition as soon as possible. No doubt, Likud will file weekly no-confidence motions against the government, which means lawmakers on both sides will not be traveling abroad much over the coming months, as the thinnest of margins separates Israel from yet another election.