Analysis

ANALYSIS - Israel’s precarious post-Netanyahu order

Ending Netanyahu’s rule was a goal that proved sufficient to bring together parties that would have otherwise been at loggerheads with one another. Perhaps keeping Netanyahu out of the fold will again be an incentive to overlook differences

Batu Coskun   | 15.06.2021
ANALYSIS - Israel’s precarious post-Netanyahu order

The writer is a London-based political analyst focusing on Turkey, Israel, and the Gulf. He holds a master’s in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

ISTANBUL

Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12 consecutive years in power have come to a dramatic end as Israel’s new coalition government won a vote of confidence in the Knesset on Sunday evening. As Netanyahu vowed to “be back soon” in his final address as prime minister, the triumphant mood amongst his rivals was unmistakable. Netanyahu has been ousted by a government that is unique even by Israeli standards. Israel is indeed a country where ad hoc political formulas have become the norm due to the extremely stratified nature of the parliamentary system, often accommodating multifarious power-sharing agreements, yet this coalition seems one of the broadest so far.

The 36th government of Israel, which was sworn in yesterday, pushes the boundaries of the Israeli political system to a new level of compromise and political pragmatism that has long been absent from the country. The heterogeneous political forces that constitute the government are bound by the overarching aim of achieving a post-Netanyahu political reality in Israel. The Israeli left, right, and center all threw their weight into forming this extensive coalition supported in addition by the Arab Ra’am Party, which is expected to be represented in the government by a deputy minister.

The balance that pervades this political mosaic is expectedly a delicate one, which will be put to the test now that the common aim of ousting Netanyahu has been achieved. Netanyahu’s 12 years in office were marked by a similar sense of shrewd political maneuvering that yielded unorthodox but politically successful outcomes. While members of this coalition appear to have taken a leaf out of Netanyahu’s book, i.e., by courting the Arab party Ra’am, their challenge will arguably be greater.

This government will have the opportunity to demonstrate whether they can address policy with a similar sense of pragmatism, or be condemned to another cycle of elections and political turmoil. The latter scenario seems far more likely given Israel’s political climate and the presence of irreconcilable differences between the worldviews of the government’s constituent elements. The ascent of Naftali Bennett as prime minister, who will be Israel’s first Religious-Zionist head of government, also appears to be a possible point of contention. Bennett has the potential to be as controversial as his predecessor.

Israel’s new PM: Naftali Bennett

Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years in a rotation agreement with Yair Lapid, the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid, who had originally been given the mandate to form a government. Bennett’s support to Lapid’s coalition was crucial, and he has been rewarded for his loyalty despite representing only a fraction of the Israeli electorate. Bennett’s immediate goal will undoubtedly be to see his premiership through and establish himself as an alternative right-wing power and contender for the leadership.

While Bennett is largely unknown outside of Israel, he is no stranger to Israeli right-wing politics. Having chaired and served in various parties of the Israeli right, Bennett embodies the character of the Israeli polity’s shift towards Religious-Zionism. His pro-settlement rhetoric was often a tool that he utilized against Netanyahu, who he criticized for being too compliant and docile.

Bennett’s views, which will largely be checked by the left-wing and centrist elements in the coalition alongside Ra’am, could become a possible thorn moving forward. While Lapid and Bennett have agreed to not dwell on differences and instead focus on pressing matters such as education, housing in the Negev, and welfare payments, it is unclear how all sides can keep overlooking ideological differences.

Bennett outlined his vision for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an op-ed for the New York Times in 2014. While the piece is outdated and written in a different style compared to Bennett’s present position, which requires a certain stately tone, it reveals the PM’s rationale regarding the Palestinian issue and his approach to settlements. Bennett’s views have not shifted since 2014, if anything, they have become more acute as Israel continues to face an inherent fragility, as evidenced by the events in Jerusalem last month.

Bennett is of the opinion that Palestine simply cannot be allowed to exist as a state, and should thus never be allowed to control its borders or have an army. His proposed solution in lieu of statehood is increased autonomy for the Palestinian Authority in certain sections of the West Bank and a mesh of economic incentives combined with tighter security, as well as the total annexation of certain territories by Israel.

It is unclear how Bennett hopes to reconcile his vision for the settlements with his Arab and left-wing coalition partners. His specific referral to Israeli sovereignty over certain settlements in his oath-taking speech at the Knesset hints that he will press for annexation, at least at the rhetorical level. His unwaveringly pro-settlement attitude and religious-Zionist worldview will no doubt emerge as a point of discord as his government progresses.

Netanyahu: Gone for good?

While Netanyahu has certainly been outmaneuvered, it is too early to speak of an absolute downfall. The former PM will continue to dominate headlines in Israel, as he currently stands trial for charges of bribery, with new revelations made public at every other hearing. His party Likud also remains the largest party in the Knesset and any defections from the ruling coalition would be utilized by Netanyahu to make Bennett’s rule unsustainable. Netanyahu has already vowed to “save” Israel from the Bennett government and has hinted at tough opposition in the days ahead.

Indeed, the coalition government was only approved with 60 votes of the total 120 in the Knesset. Any defections or internal opposition, which has already begun surfacing in Bennett’s own Yamina Party over ministerial posts, could spell disaster for this broad coalition. Bennett and Lapid must play a fine balancing act in order to reign in all the Knesset members in order to ensure continued governance.

Ending Netanyahu’s rule was a goal that proved sufficient to bring together parties that would have otherwise been at loggerheads with one another. Perhaps keeping Netanyahu out of the fold will again be an incentive to overlook differences. Nevertheless, Israel’s quest for political stability is by no means answered by the Bennett-Lapid consensus, as it needs time and effective governance to prove itself as an alternative to Netanyahu’s political machine.

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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