The Israeli government celebrates a year but the future is uncertain
Even Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who leads an ideologically divided coalition and perpetually facing collapse, has expressed doubts about the viability of his eight-party government.
“A year ago, I wasn’t sure it could be done,” the nationalist-religious leader told AFP, 12 months after ending the long reign of right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Under the deal he struck with the architect of the coalition, Foreign Secretary Yair Lapid, the two are supposed to swap posts halfway through their four-year terms.
The first anniversary of their ragtag alliance falls next Monday, but some experts say a second is highly unlikely. Others doubt he will survive until the end of the month.
The impending demise is nothing new for a coalition that spans the political spectrum, from right-wing extremists like Bennett to centrists, doves and Arab Islamists.
The April defection of a member of Prime Minister Yamina’s alliance stripped him of his majority in Israel’s 120-seat parliament.
It even lasted several days as a minority government after a leftist Arab lawmaker fell last month, but then she returned and the coalition is now hanging on with 60 seats.
The current crisis, rooted in one of Israel’s most sensitive fault lines, could prove fatal, however.
– New threat –
Lawmakers from two coalition supporters, the Joint (Arab) List (Raam) and the dovish Meretz party, refused to renew a measure ensuring that Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank are subject to Israeli law.
Any concession to the idea of settlers living outside Israel is anathema to other coalition partners, including Yamina and the hawkish New Hope party led by Justice Minister Gideon Saar.
It remains uncertain whether the government will survive this conflict or what the next crisis may entail.
But in written responses to AFP interview questions, Bennett said the alliance had already proven itself and shown the merit of compromise between rivals.
“After a year of leading this government, my greatest achievement is that Israel is at its best when we work together, overcome our differences and focus on the good of this country,” he wrote.
“What started as a political accident has turned into a goal. It’s working,” he added, pointing to the November passage of a budget, Israel’s first in three years.
“A year ago, Israel was heading for its fifth election in two years and was crippled by polarization,” Bennett said, recalling the turmoil that marked the past few years under Netanyahu.
“This government is the antidote to polarization.”
– ‘No peace plan’ –
Bennett, a hardliner on the Palestinian conflict, was not previously known for his commitment to political inclusiveness.
When the former leader of a settler lobby first ran for office in 2012-13, he drew attention for delivering nationalist messages with a modern twist.
“There are some things that most of us understand will never happen,” one campaign line read. “The Sopranos won’t be back for another season…and there will never be a peace plan with the Palestinians.”
Bennett has not changed his ideology: he opposes a Palestinian state and has claimed there will be no peace talks during his term, while his government has approved new settler homes in the West Bank .
Bennett said he instead wants to expand economic opportunities for Palestinians, including giving them access to better-paying Israeli jobs.
But some experts say Bennett’s first year in charge revealed that he was, in part, mistakenly seen as an inflexible hardliner.
“He puts the interests of the state ahead of the interests of the ideological camp he represents,” said Yedidia Stern, president of the Jewish People’s Political Institute and professor of law at Bar-Ilan University.
– ‘Safeguard democracy’ –
Bennett’s coalition was forged by a shared antipathy toward Netanyahu, who was in power from 1996 to 1999 and again from 2009 until June last year.
While many of Bennett’s associates share Netanyahu’s hawkish views, they have broken with him over fears he will undermine state institutions to serve his personal ambition and survive a corruption trial, which he denies. .
Many saw Netanyahu, a close ally of former US President Donald Trump, as fueling right-wing populism and encouraging conspiracy theories about malicious judges, bureaucrats and journalists.
Ami Pedahzur, author of “The Triumph of Israel’s Radical Right,” argued that Bennett’s government is made up of “institutionalists” who resisted the narrative of a “cabal or deep state trying to take over.” Power to the people”.
Left-right divides were temporarily bridged by a shared desire to “defend the institutions, for a while,” said Pedahzur, an Israeli-born professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
Bennett, in a similar vein, praised his coalition for “safeguarding the integrity of Israeli democracy.”
“It’s not about making the left happy one day and the right happy another day,” he wrote. “It’s about listening to each other, hearing different points of view and sometimes compromising.”