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JERUSALEM – A new Israeli government, united in its determination to overthrow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but unanimous on little else, will take office on Sunday under a right-wing leader whose eight-party coalition the left and For the first time, it includes an independent Arab party.
It looks like a recipe for chronic instability.
Even the vote of confidence in the Knesset or in parliament on Sunday, which would usher in the first change in the Israeli leadership in a dozen years, is incomplete in view of the wafer-thin majority of Naftali Bennett’s coalition with its 61 seats in the 120-member chamber. But all indications are that the votes for Mr Bennett’s appointment as Prime Minister have been clear, save for an eleven hour drama.
A signed coalition agreement was officially presented to the Knesset Secretariat on Friday, the final step before a vote and the swearing-in of the new government.
Survival then becomes an issue. Israel’s parliamentary democracy swung in a presidential direction under Netanyahu. In the end, his increasingly dismissive style had alienated too many people, especially among the nominal allies on the right.
Agreeing to return to democratic norms could be the reason for the unlikely coalition.
“The parties are different, but they share a commitment to restore Israel as a functioning liberal democracy,” said Shlomo Avineri, a prominent political scientist. “In the past few years we have seen Netanyahu begin to rule with semi-authority.”
After an agreement was reached on the government program on Friday, Bennett said: “The government will work as a unit for the entire Israeli public – religious, secular, ultra-Orthodox, Arab – without exception. We will work together, out of partnership and national responsibility, and I believe we will succeed. “
Success requires constant compromise. “You will not deal with the highly controversial issues between left and right,” said Tamar Hermann, professor of political science at the Israeli Open University.
In practice this means a likely focus on domestic rather than foreign affairs. Israel has had no budget for more than two years of political unrest and repeated elections. Mr. Bennett, a self-made tech millionaire, is determined to provide a higher standard of living and prosperity to a population that is weary of this paralysis.
The sensitive issues that need to be postponed or refined include any renewed peace negotiations with the Palestinians and any major settlement expansion in the West Bank.
Although Mr. Bennett was once a leader of the main settler movement in the West Bank and has called for the annexation of parts of the territory conquered by Israel in 1967, he certainly appears through centrist and left-wing members of the coalition and through the pragmatism that survival requires.
Building good relations with the Biden government, a priority, and improving relations with America’s liberal-majority Jewish community, another important goal, also requires centrist restraint.
“Hardcore right-wing people, we have the evidence, are becoming more centrist in office,” said Ms. Hermann. “Bennett was not prime minister when he made his statements for the settlement.”
Mr Bennett, 49, like other prominent members of the future cabinet, has long waited to step out of the shadow of Mr Netanyahu. Yair Lapid, 57, the new Foreign Minister, and Gideon Saar, 54, who would later become Justice Minister, are other prominent politicians of a generation tired of being sidelined by the man many Israelis called the King of Israel become. You won’t want to go back to the shadows.
Mr Lapid, a leading architect in the coalition, would become Prime Minister in two years under the deal that provided an alternative to Mr Netanyahu – another incentive for him to help make the government work.
Still, it can’t be. The parties, from Mr. Bennett’s Yamina party on the right to Labor and Meretz on the left, disagree on everything from LGBTQ rights to public transport on Shabbat.
They will face devastating ongoing attacks from Netanyahu’s center-right Likud. It is conceivable that at some point Netanyahu will be ousted from the Likud, whereupon the right-wing coalition members will return to their natural alliances.
“It won’t be easy,” says Avraham Diskin, political scientist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “I really doubt Lapid will become prime minister in two years.”
One of the measures agreed upon by the future government is a law establishing a two-term term for prime ministers. In fact, this would rule out Netanyahu Redux.
Four ministries will be closed, including the ministries for digital and strategic affairs. Mr Netanyahu had such a large and unwieldy cabinet that he could argue that he had to make decisions for himself.
The future government will also pursue laws designed to make it difficult to change the basic laws of Israel, which in the absence of a constitution serve as the country’s constitutional basis. Mr. Netanyahu, charged with fraud and other charges, appeared to be calling for the Supreme Court to be curtailed and immunity from prosecution as prime minister.
The presence in the government of Raam, an independent Arab party, will influence politics to some extent.
The inequalities in living standards, education and access to land between Israeli Jews and the Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up about 20 percent of the population, have become a burning issue. The violent clashes between communities last month were the worst in two decades. Tensions remain high.
The government is expected to allocate nearly $ 10 billion over the next few years to fill the gaps between communities, freeze the demolition of unlicensed homes in Arab territories, recognize three Bedouin villages in the Negev desert, improve local public transport, and increase policing in disadvantaged Arab communities suffering from drug trafficking and violence.
Positions pledged to secure his support include Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Chairman of the Knesset Committee on Arab Affairs.
But tensions could flare up at any moment. The next day, a nationalist march through the Muslim-majority quarters of Jerusalem’s Old City was postponed to Tuesday. Last month’s original Jerusalem Day march was canceled due to Hamas rocket fire and clashes between police and Palestinian protesters.
The subject remains highly sensitive, loaded with the same emotions that led to a brief war last month, despite efforts to agree on a less sensitive route for the march. Mr. Bennett and Mr. Lapid’s political dexterity is quickly put to the test.