- Israel Politics: More than One Month Without Netanyahu - August 24, 2021
Israeli politics are something easy to get hooked on. There is something grotesque and exaggerated with the politics there that can make you obsessed. It was two years ago that the last political crisis Israel suffered started. The recently formed government crumbled under its own weight. That episode started a two-year cycle of political stagnation and ended with the ousting of the longest-standing Prime Minister Israel had ever seen. A month has passed since the very unlikely government coalition came into office, and the changes are noticeable.
What did it take to oust Netanyahu? An unlikely coalition that put together a former loyalist, a TV host, and – for the first time ever – an Arab. In fact, the pressure that Netanyahu put on the Israeli political system created the conditions for certain parties – that six months prior were perhaps unlikely to sit at the same table – to willingly form a coalition. Israel has a parliamentary system. Every Israeli citizen above the age of 18 has the right to vote specifically for a candidate list in a single district. Once the votes are counted, the seats in the parliament are distributed accordingly. With 120 seats, the Knesset needed 61 members to agree on a government to function.
The Coalition that ousted Netanyahu
The major names on this coalition were Yair Lapid, Mansour Abbas, and Naftali Bennet. Yair Lapid is the head of his own party. After quitting a very prolific career as a TV personality, he went into politics to represent a secular and progressive, Tel Aviv-based, middle-upper class.
Mansour Abbas is a peculiar character. Head of the United Arab List (Ra’Am), he champions the interests of enough of the Arab population to have the necessary votes to be in Knesset. He runs on a platform focused on granting more resources to Arab communities in Israel, but it is hard to ignore the rumors about his old ties to the Muslim Brotherhood – the same organization behind the assassination of Anwar Sadat and the deposition of the Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.
Finally, the most unlikely member of this threesome is current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Bennet, who started as a businessman strongly attached to the start-up sector, has become the face of a very religious, yet modern sector of Israeli society. After spending some time as a Likud member under the leadership of Netanyahu, he parted ways and created his own party, gaining great support from settlers in the West Bank.
The coalition made one major commitment: not to deal with any sensitive issue that will affect its continuity. This means not assessing the Palestinian problem and not tackling the settlement issue. Despite this, there are many issues the coalition is willing to work on. For example, it is expected to seriously invest in Israel’s Arab communities, improve foreign relations with the United States and Europe, and make some advancements on gender issues.
The Future of the Governing Coalition
Many have pointed out the fragility of this coalition. Arguably, the smallest issue might be the cause of the fall of the government. How much will it take to sustain the government, when the issue that unites them is their hatred for Netanyahu? This assumption is more than valid, but there are also plenty of reasons to commit to this government. For Abbas, this means a huge step up the political ladder. In fact, for the first time in the history of the State of Israel, an Arab party will be a part of a government coalition. For Lapid, if the coalition were to fall apart, it would mean a loss of confidence for most of its supporters, which would probably allow Netanyahu to regain power. And for Bennett, the failure of the government would mean the end of his political career and definitive ostracism from any circle of influence.
But since every story has an end, this coalition will certainly have its own. In Israel, governments last up to four years. After this time, an election takes place to renew the entire Parliament. Furthermore, it is unusual for Israeli governments to last four years, resulting in early elections in most cases. The real question will come after the government is finished and a new election is called. Why? To begin with, the greatest taboo in Israeli politics has been broken with the participation of an Arab party in the government. This opens up many new opportunities for Arab communities and Arab-Jewish leaders. Second, the next election will show Netanyahu’s fate. Today, Netanyahu is followed closely by the shadow of corruption cases that threaten to put him in jail, as has happened to previous Prime Ministers. Most likely, the only alternative for Netanyahu to avoid prison will be regaining his immunity as Prime Minister. If Israeli society can hold a new election without allowing Netanyahu to become Prime Minister, we will certainly know that the end of an era has come.
If there is something that impresses people, it is the attitude within the Likud, Netanyahu’s party. Many were predicting a complete fall from grace for the former Prime Minister and a fast internal election to renew the leadership of the party through this convoluted period. None of this has happened. Despite some announcements of Likud leaders bidding to run for party leadership, nothing has changed. In fact, Likud members of Knesset have shown a savage attitude towards any initiative from the government. Several members of parliament are trying to delegitimize and sabotage the current government. The best example of this is the Citizenship Law, approved as a temporary measure in 2003 in the middle of the Second Intifada. The law forbids Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to acquire Israeli citizenship or residency. The law, which has been renewed every year since is now about to expire after Netanyahu called the opposition to vote against it. Netanyahu, who has been the main supporter of this law, is looking to widen the gap between the parties in the coalition, namely between Meretz and Ra’am.
Likud is not comporting as a democratic opposition and instead is looking to undermine the governing coalition. For this reason, it is failing to uphold the core pillars on which the Israeli political system is built. Only the advancing of the court cases Netanyahu is facing – or the rise of new leadership – could prevent the aggravation of the current situation. That or, of course, the loss of steam of this dangerous attitude.
The Change in Israel Politics
Despite the significant efforts the opposition is making, there is still room for change. Probably the most affected by this are the Haredim, or ultra-orthodox. With their parties out of government, the coalition lead by secular Israelis and religious nationalists, the Haredim is in a disadvantageous position. First with subsidy cuts to the Haredi population, and now with a direct confrontation with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Since the inception of the State of Israel, the Chief Rabbinate had authority over key issues in order to ensure religious support of the new State. Issues such as conversion, marriage, and kosher certification have brought controversy over the years. The recent decision to take away the monopoly on Kosher certification, a very lucrative business, from the Chief Rabbinate has eliminated a source of income for Haredi people. Besides that, the reform looks to make a series of private-run certification entities that fit different lifestyles legal. This would reduce costs for business owners and customers.
What remains a major question is Palestine. Palestinians are not represented in the Israeli government since they are not citizens. Instead, they hold their own political organizations with a limited level of autonomy under the institutions of the Palestinian National Authority. A whole article could be written on the events that shook Palestinian society during the same time. But instead, I suggest paying attention to three main issues: the relationship between Arab Israeli citizens and Palestinians, the riots against the Palestinian National Authority between June and July 2021, and the reasons behind the canceling of the election for Palestinian National Authority officials.
Israel is facing changes. It is not addressing any of the major issues the international community might care about, but the long-term consequences of this process might affect how these issues are dealt with. New leaderships for the Jewish and Arab population may represent a bright future for the State of Israel and its Arabs neighbors, especially in the context of the growing number of Arab countries recognizing Israel.
- How will the Palestine issue evolve?
- Have security concerns changed significantly with the new government?
- What are Netanyahu’s next steps?
 Meretz is a member party of the governing coalition. It is considered to the left of most Jewish parties and came to prominence during the Oslo accords in 1993.