By Ilan Fuchs, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Legal Studies
After 12 years, Israel has a new prime minister. Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest serving head of government in the nation’s history, stepped down last Sunday after a coalition of parties voted to form a rotating government to be led at first by Naftali Bennett, a rightwing religious politician. In August 2023, Bennett will be replaced by the centrist and left-leaning Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid. Bennett will then assume the role of Minister of Interior.
The New Government Includes Right, Left and Even an Arab Political Party
The new government consists of seven parties ranging from the rightwing to the leftwing and even a small Islamist party. It’s the first time that an Arab party — and one with ideological connections to the Muslim Brotherhood – has become an essential part of an Israeli government.
This coalition is based first and foremost on one thing: it’s anti-Bibi. The parties have either been political rivals of Netanyahu or once were his political allies but had a personal falling out with him. After four elections in two years that failed to bring about a stable government, this ragtag coalition came together to prevent a fifth election, but perhaps was more motivated by their personal animosity toward Netanyahu.
This was not a big victory for the coalition. It won by the narrowest of margin, 60 vote in favor and 59 opposed after one member of the Islamist party abstained. The other Arab members of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, waited outside the main hall to see how the vote would turn out. When they were sure this new government would have a majority, they reentered to vote against it.
Will This New Government Survive? There is Little in Common among the Parties
If I were a betting man, I would say no, the new government cannot survive for long. There is little in common among these parties. Rightwing hardliners joined by an Arab party? So much can go wrong. Will they vote together if there is a military clash with Hamas like the one that ended in May? What if the left-wing parties wish to promote LGBTQ legislation? The Islamist party has declared it will fiercely object to any such attempt. Changes in the role of religion in a country that does not separate church and state can also bring this government down like a ton of bricks.
What might allow the government to continue churning on for a while is the fact that there is a clear capitalistic majority that can be a rallying point. The new government has many proponents of infrastructure investment and the need to increase funding in the Arab communities in Israel that suffer from high crime rates. Another objective, for example, is the liberalization of the strained relationship between religion and the state of Israel, but can that sustain the new government for long?
Netanyahu says he is not going anywhere. He is betting this government will collapse sooner rather than later. He might not be wrong. He could have allowed a fellow Likud member to take the reins and establish a government that would have produced a stable majority, but he chose not to. So he is not resigning as he did after he lost to Ehud Barak in 1999. He is staying around.
The New Government Has Profoundly Ideological Ministers
The new government has profoundly ideological ministers. They will most likely use their time in office — which might be very short — to make sweeping changes in their portfolios.
One topic that seems to unify all members of this coalition is the Charedi community. Charedim are Orthodox Jews who shun modernity and are a growing segment of the Israeli population.
Charedim do not generally serve in the Israeli military and rely heavily of welfare stipends. The new government most likely will not force conscription on them, but will incentivize them to leave religious seminaries and join the labor market. That will provide more funding for the newly established state-run charedi schools. These schools integrate religious studies with a complete state-mandated secular education, unlike most charedi schools which are partially government-funded but have little to no secular education.
Highly Doubtful That This Government Will Reinitiate Talks with the Palestinian Authority
It is highly doubtful that this government will reinitiate talks with the Palestinian Authority; there is no will or means for such a move. On the Iranian front, the new government will not publicly challenge the Biden administration’s position concerning the nuclear deal with Iran. Will it continue to actively use the Mossad in Iran as Netanyahu did? That remains to be seen. Bennett was an officer in an elite Israeli commando unit that operated deep behind enemy lines and it will not be surprising if he were to utilize those capabilities.
The New York Times called this a watershed moment in Israeli politics. Like many times in recent years, the newspaper was quick to ascribe momentous significance to developments in Israeli politics. It might be right this time, but it would not be a surprise if we see another election in 2022. So this might not be the last we see of Netanyahu. Also, this newest government shows the Israeli electorate is staunchly to the right on the political map.
This model might be an interesting comparison for developments also here in the U.S. Former president Donald Trump is thinking of running again in 2024, but Trumpism as a political philosophy is not going anywhere. After Trump was able to garner more than 71 million votes in the last election and still lose, one thing is clear: The political right is a strong contender to pursue hegemony in the U.S. and in many other countries around the world.