Can Israel have a stable government?

The Israeli government led by Naftali Bennett, who took office exactly one year ago, in June 2021, has once again collapsed. With the process of dissolving the parliament, or Knesset, we are heading towards the country’s fifth election in three and a half years.

Israeli lawmakers voted to dissolve the Knesset on Thursday morning, sending Yair Lapid as prime minister.

Lapid, a former journalist, moderate, with a strong propensity for dialogue – for example, Lapid supports the two-state solution with the Palestinians, unlike Bennett, who has always spoken against it – will assume the post of prime minister on Thursday by interim, on June 30 at midnight until the next round of Israeli elections, scheduled for November 1.

That the majority is frail was not unheard of. It was based on an extremely varied coalition, a mixture of eight political forces, completely different from each other, with no point of contact, except to crash into the opposition Benjamin Netanyahu, and his Likud party, after twelve years in power. .

But clearly, it was a very small majority: 61 lawmakers out of the 120 who sit in the Knesset.

How did we get here ?

After the April 2019 parliamentary elections, Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Israel’s largest party, the right-wing Likud, was unable to form a government and the Knesset was dissolved.

New elections six months later did not result in a government, and the Knesset once again dissolved.

A new unity government between Netanyahu and Benny Gantz was again formed in March 2020 and then collapsed in December of the same year.

Although the right had the majority, Netanyahu never did. The reason for the impossibility of creating a stable government. This provided an opening for Bennett and Lapid, who formed a coalition bringing together parties from the far right to the centrists, from the left to the Joint List, the political alliance between Arab parties, including an Islamist party that represented the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

On March 23, the first anniversary of this fourth election, it emerged that Israel had finally managed to put together the appearance of a functioning government after a period of political paralysis.

Then suddenly everything fell apart. A three-month internal deterioration process began.

What happened?

The beginning was unmistakably spring. A series of defections followed. The first two were those of Amichai Chikli, a member of Bennet’s Yamina party, followed later by that of Idit Silman, parliamentary leader of the coalition government in the Knesset, who had left the executive due to internal disputes with the Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, leader of the far-left Meretz party.

Silman’s defection increased the majority to 60-60, throwing the government into de facto paralysis.

The next blow came soon after, on May 19, when Arab parliamentarian Rinawie Zoabi announced that she was leaving the leadership of her party, refusing to vote with the coalition.

Such a decision would have put the government in a minority. After three days of pressure, Rinawie Zoabi allowed himself to be persuaded to return in exchange for financial offers to the Arab community.

But now the damage was done. It was obvious that every legislator now had the power to hold the coalition hostage.

On May 25, another defection. Congressman Michael Biton has announced that he will no longer vote with the ruling coalition, except in votes of no confidence, until an agreement is reached on his main concern: public transport reform.

The bomb that blew it all up was a piece of legislation.

The bill that subjected Israelis in the occupied West Bank to Israeli law was to be renewed. The law, which applies “emergency” rules to settlers, has been in force since 1967 and has been ratified every five years. Members of the right-wing coalition have warned that if the legislation is not passed, the coalition is unlikely to survive.

The Netanyahu-led opposition took the opportunity to trouble the Bennett government by voting in favor of the settlements and refusing to renew the regulations.

The Arab members, seeing clearly that the government would not hold out, decided not to support it. Thus, 58 lawmakers voted against the legislation and 52 for, with two members of the Arab coalition voting against and others abstaining.

And that’s when Nir Orbach, a former member of The Jewish Home party and who joined the Yamina alliance in the spring 2021 elections, left the coalition.

With Orbach out of the game, Netanyahu’s opposition forces began to further weaken the slim majority.

Bennett and Lapid decided not to wait to find out what Likud would do or when it would do it. They anticipated the times by announcing the dissolution of the Knesset on June 20 that would lead to new elections this fall, while handing over power to Lapid as interim prime minister.

It is clear that at the level of domestic policy, the Bennett government had to face from day one many difficulties linked to the heterogeneity of the coalition. Given this heterogeneity, there were many issues to defend, starting with the Palestinian question.

Since 1967, Israeli political groups have been divided, either favoring continued military occupation or wanting to live side by side with a Palestinian state.

There are further divisions on the size of this hypothetical state, where its capital would be located, and how many people would be allowed to live in this state.

The new approach adopted by the last executive was not to resolve the conflict through diplomatic means, but to implement policies for the integration of the Palestinian population. Many interpreted it as a new way to continue Israeli politics like never before.

It should be remembered that in recent months, tensions have been added to this condemnation due to the episodes of violence that took place in the Al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan. The aggression of the Israeli police forces against faithful Muslims has shown how internal conflicts are still very present and that the policy of violence of the Israeli government continues to be the same.

The episode also sparked a series of protests from Arab actors normalizing relations with Tel Aviv, mainly Jordan. Following these incidents, Ra’am (the coalition of Arab parties) decided to freeze its status as a member of the coalition.

On the foreign policy level, the crisis of the Israeli government is reaching an extremely important stage.. In fact, on July 13 and 14, US President Joe Biden will visit Jerusalem, in what is considered one of the most important trips for the US administration and its regional partners.

Biden’s visit represents an opportunity to strengthen the leadership figure also in view of the new elections. The possibility of the return of Benjamin Netanyahu, a figure also opposed to the Biden administration, could be a card to spend in the relations between Lapid and the current American president.

There are many issues open to discussion and each is of particular importance: the Palestinian question, the nuclear issue with Iran, relations with Saudi Arabia, and so on.

Will Netanyahu enter or not?

There is still no clear answer. Of course, we have to remember that he is facing a trial and the only way to defend himself in this process is to stay in politics and use his political power to defend himself by controlling the judicial system.

If Netanyahu were to stay out of this, the Israeli right could unite to create a right-wing government so it has a chance. On the other hand, it seems more than clear that much of Israeli society is increasingly sympathetic to Jewish nationalism, and a leftist party would garner very few votes.

For this reason, it is believed that Lapid’s role will now be increasingly decisive because it is around him that an alternative coalition to that proposed by Likud could emerge. We will see if the Israelis this time will be able to elect a government that will last.

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