Yesterday, the leaders of a wide variety of Israeli opposition parties reached an agreement to form a coalition government that will end Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year stint on power, who will now have to face legal challenges without the political cover of the Israeli premiership. The anti-Netanyahu bloc finalized the deal after weeks of negotiations and it would prevent Israel to immediately go to its fifth elections in two years.
It is usually said that politics make for strange bedfellows, well, there is no better description of the anti-Netanyahu bloc that just agreed to form the new government of Israel. The coalition is an incredibly wide one, with its partners having little in common except their united wish to put an end to the rule of Netanyahu.
The new Israeli government will be supported by an eight-faction coalition, including right-wing politician Naftali Bennet, centrist Yair Lapid, and even the head of the Islamist Raam party, Mansour Abbas. According to the initial agreement, Bennet will take the position of Prime Minister for two years and then cede the position to Lapid for another two years.
Lapid, who had been tasked to form a government, called Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and informed him about the deal, who has called the Knesset (Israeli parliament) to immediately convene and vote for the formation of the new government. If a majority of the parliament (61 votes) votes for the motion, then the new government will be formed and Netanyahu will cease to be the Israeli head of government after holding the fate of Israel in his hands since his election in 2009.
The vote in the Knesset will be tight, though, as the eight factions who have agreed to form the government have a combined strength of 62 seats, barely one above the needed threshold to create a new administration in Israel.
If more than a single MP defect, however, then Israelis would have to go to the polls again. Which is why we should not discard Netanyahu just yet, he will try his best to maintain pressure into some members of the new coalition to defect to his side and force the Knesset to call to new elections. Although the momentum is with the Lapid-Bennet coalition, Netanyahu only needs to convince a few MPs to sink the new government before it even begins.
Fresh set of chalenges
The new government would be a historic one and faces the extremely complicated task of balancing the competing (even contradictory) interests of its members. The coalition will include a Prime Minister who has said that the creation of a Palestinian state would be “suicidal” for Israel’s security and also the leader of the Raam Islamist party that represents the Arab minority who are Israeli citizens, something unprecedented on Israeli political history.
The ideological variety within the coalition would surely make it an extremely fragile one. Out of the eight coalition partners, two are left-wing parties who favour a two-state solution, three are right-wing parties who oppose any type of major concessions to the Palestinians, two centrist parties, and the United Arab List.
The ideological heterogeneity of the new Israeli government is as if Joe Biden, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, and AOC joined forces and planned to govern together for at least four years. If it sounds far-fetched, then is because this coalition is really an unprecedented one.
Hence, it will be very difficult for the new coalition to make any substantive policy change stick as anything that benefits one side of the government would most likely be deemed unacceptable by other partners of the coalition.
Issues like the economic recovery after the COVID pandemic would surely occupy the early months of the new government, but more hot button topics like the annexation of the West Bank or the tense relationship with the Palestinians would challenge the strength of the coalition in the near future. The coalition might be united in their wish to oust Netanyahu, but what will happen since the one thing that unites them is no longer in office?
In normal circumstances, the fragility of the new government would mean that Netanyahu would have another chance at reaching the government once the coalition inevitably breaks down. However, Israeli politics have not been normal for at least two years, and Netanyahu will have to face first the trial where he is accused of corruption charges, which could last years and make it difficult for him to return to power if the Lapid-Bennet government falls.
Bibi Netanyahu has been considered by many to be some sort of political magician, being able to survive political challenges that no one else could. Although it appears that his luck might be running out, even in his ousting the magician managed to do a final trick: uniting the right, the left, the center, and an Islamist party against him.