By Ilan Fuchs, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Legal Studies
The new government in Israel is already into its fourth month. There were some supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu who did not expect the new government to pass the 100-day mark, but it did.
However, Israel’s future is still draped in fog. There is much that can happen, and this government’s tenure could prove to be very short, given Israel’s previous history.
Maintaining Political Stability in Israel
The Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, is held together by a ragtag coalition of politically conflicted parties. This group is united in their fear that Benjamin Netanyahu will return triumphantly to again become Israel’s Prime Minister.
As I mentioned in a previous article, that fear is not a very strong common denominator. Many things can go wrong, but the political survival of Israel’s different parties makes this unusual coalition work for now.
By a very narrow majority in the Knesset, Israel’s unicameral legislature, the Israeli parliament was able to pass the 2021-2022 budget bill. With the help of the United Arab Party, the first Arab party to ever join an Israeli government, the budget included 53 billion shekels ($16 billion) toward improving life for the Arab population of Israel.
The Biggest Challenge Prime Minister Bennett Faces: COVID-19
Bennett has promised everyone he will solve the COVID-19 crisis. Protecting Israel against the COVID-19 pandemic was Netanyahu’s crowning achievement; he made Israel the first country in the world to become 60% vaccinated.
Bennett said all along that he can do it better. Even when Bennett was a member of the Netanyahu government, he laid out a plan for solving the COVID-19 crisis.
During Bennett’s first month in office, for instance, he began a third booster shot campaign. This campaign is providing more protection against COVID-19, but many of the Israeli public disagree. Israel is now experiencing a fourth wave of COVID-19, mainly hitting the unvaccinated.
However, COVID-19 numbers within Israel have been returning to the safe zone. According to Haaretz, “the R number, which represents the average number of people that each infected person will infect in turn, has been on a downward trend since September 5 and currently stands at 0.77. Anything less than an R rate of 1 indicates that the pace of infection is on the decline.”
This return to normalcy has come at a cost. Earlier this year, Israel lifted many of its COVID-19 restrictions, which has cost the lives of many unvaccinated Israelis. Some believe this choice was wrong and those restrictions should have been enforced, even if those restrictions limited economic resurgence.
Israel and Its Foreign Relations
Diplomacy is another field that has experienced some changes under Bennett’s leadership. Bennett has been trying to outdo Netanyahu’s performance in this area.
Bennett was in the White House last month and met President Biden to discuss the Iran deal. Bennett also went to New York to give a speech in the United Nations General Assembly.
However, Bennett’s speech sounded more like domestic policy instead of a message to the international community. He was quickly criticized by a pro-Netanyahu journalist writing an op-ed for The Jerusalem Post: “Regarding making Israel look bad, Bennett might have helped Israel’s cause by addressing the Palestinian issue, even if only briefly, and even if only to say that Israel remains interested in solving the conflict, as it always has been.
“It is no secret that Bennett is no advocate of the two-state solution, and he doesn’t need to say he is. But what Israeli leaders need to do in these types of venues is extend a hand to the Palestinians, show an interest in wanting to improve the situation, even if conditions for solving the conflict are not ripe.”
This Jerusalem Post op-ed was saying the obvious; Bennett has no plan to change anything on the Palestinian front. The Post added, “Israel is neither the rejectionist nor the recalcitrant party in this saga, nor should it appear as such. But by not even mentioning the issue, or articulating a yearning to solve the conflict, Bennett provided ammunition to those around the world – including the Palestinians – eager to cast Israel precisely in that unfavorable light.”
Israel’s Minister of Defense, Benny Gantz, had a meeting last month with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. The meeting, approved by Bennett, was an attempt to improve Israeli-Palestinian relations after the Netanyahu era, but Bennett was quick to clarify that he saw no value in the meeting.
According to the Times of Israel, Gantz said: “It was a very important meeting, it was a meeting about security, where we discussed security cooperation and joint activities…We want to strengthen the moderate forces in the area.” However, no sign of any change resulting from this meeting has been reported.
Bennett has also met with other leaders such as President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi from Egypt and King Abdullah II of Jordan to improve diplomatic relations after tense years in the Netanyahu era. Will that bring about a detente in the Middle East? Time will tell.
Yair Lapid Aspires to Become Israel’s Next Prime Minister, But His Success Is Unlikely
Yair Lapid, Israel’s foreign affairs minister, and alternate Prime Minister aspires to become the next Prime Minister if the coalition survives for another 15 months. Lapid has been busy holding meetings with different world leaders. Last week, Lapid met with the King of Bahrain with whom Netanyahu signed a peace treaty in the Abraham Accords sponsored by former U.S. President Donald Trump.
Some experts, however, doubt that Lapid will be able to fill the role of Prime Minister. A former T.V. anchor and columnist, Lapid makes it a habit to put a foot in his mouth while attempting to sound smart. Lapid once wrote that 20th-century Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti was a Renaissance painter and thought forefathers means four fathers), so it will not be a surprise if Lapid does not make it to the finish line.