Watching closely – The end of an era: A new coalition on the verge of power in Israel

After three inconclusive elections since 2019, and seemingly endless months of political deadlock, it appears that Israel may be on the pathway to establishing a new government through a broad coalition made up of eight different parties, spanning across the political spectrum. For the first time in the state’s history, the governing coalition will include a party representing Israel’s Palestinian Arab population.

The Knesset is set to hold a confidence vote in the new government on Sunday, and should the vote prove successful, it will bring to an end to Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12 years in office as Prime Minister of Israel. Mr Netanyahu had called the proposed coalition the “fraud of the century”, saying it endangered the state and people of Israel. The coalition’s structure is such that the position of Prime Minister will be held on a rotational basis; first, Yamina’s Naftali Bennett will rule as Israel’s Prime Minister until 2023, after which Yair Lapid, leader of centrist party Yesh Atid, will take over. Whilst most Israelis appear to prefer this new change coalition over a fifth election, whether this coalition will last the full duration of its term or not remains to be seen.

The coalition is comprised of the following parties: 

  • Yesh Atid (centrist) – led by Yair Lapid (17 seats)
  • Kahol Lavan (centrist) – led by Benny Gantz (8 seats)
  • Yamina (right-wing) – led by Naftali Bennett (7 seats)
  • Yisrael Beiteinu (right-nationalist) – led by Avigdor Lieberman (7 seats)
  • Labor (social-democratic) – led by Merav Michaeli (7 seats)
  • New Hope (centre-right)- led by Gideon Sa’ar (6 seats)
  • Meretz (left-wing, greens) – led by Nitzan Horowitz (6 seats)
  • Ra’am (Arab, Islamist) – led by Mansour Abbas (4 seats)

The eight-party coalition, arguably the most diverse in Israel’s history, has one primary uniting principle: the desire to see incumbent Prime Minister Netanyahu out of power. With a corruption trial currently underway for Mr. Netanyahu, there are fears amongst his opponents that should he secure another term in office, he may seek to pass legislation preventing him from being charged and subsequently prosecuted. It remains to be seen as to whether this uniting factor will be able to hold together what appears to already be a fragile alliance of parties from the left and right, with strongly diverging outlooks and opinions regarding the domestic and international postures Israel ought to adopt.

Source: Al Jazeera

There appear to be no discussions regarding politically divisive or large-scale issues, such as resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, or the 2018 Nation-State Law, codifying the supremacy of the state’s Jewish identity. Instead, its leaders have said they would focus largely on domestic economic and social policy, knowing that pursuing policies on more politically divisive issues may cause this new coalition to fracture and potentially collapse. In recent statements, neither Lapid nor Bennett have spoken of large-scale visions or strategies for when they come into office, primarily because of the wide ideological spread existing amongst the different parties. This new governing coalition is likely to face a significant amount of internal pressure due to strong ideological differences and external pressure from political opponents who wish to see the coalition fall. Whilst steps may be taken to address some of the economic and social issues which currently beset Israeli society, the wider ideological differences on larger political issues render the prospects for significant political change extremely limited.

Should the confidence vote pass on Sunday, the new coalition will face two major tests; the first will be to pass a budget, thereby giving some sense that the government will be both functional and lasting. A budgetary dispute was the main driving factor that ruptured the previous coalition agreement between Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. The second key factor will be managing the relationship with the US. As the progressive wing of the Democratic party continues to pile the pressure on President Biden regarding Israeli conduct in the Occupied Territories, notably in light of the recent Israel-Gaza conflict and the threatened expulsion of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, the US-Israel relationship is facing an era of transition as Netanyahu looks to be removed from power and the Biden Administration faces internal pressures from within his own party, but simultaneously seeks to maintain close ties with Israel under its new leadership, as well as looking to repair the US relationship with Iran amidst the fallen nuclear deal. The upcoming Iranian presidential election will be a key event in determining the future of this delicate tripartite balance.

The ascension of Ra’am, an Arab-Islamist party, into a governing coalition is a watershed moment in the history of Israeli politics. It marks the first instance of an Arab party agreeing to form part of a government in Israel. For decades, Arab-Israeli parties have almost always remained on the periphery of Israeli politics. Jewish parties often dismissed them as extremists, with Netanyahu previously even going insofar as to accuse Arab parties of being made up of “terror supporters”. On the other hand, Arab parties themselves were often reluctant to form part of a government which they saw treating them as second-class citizens, and systematically oppressing Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Abbas’ decision to enter the coalition has been achieved on the basis of seeking concessions and promises from both Bennett and Lapid. According to a statement by Ra’am, both leaders have pledged NIS 30 billion over five years in economic development funds, as well as another NIS 2.5 million ($770,000) to fight violence and organized crime in Arab-Israeli cities, an issue which has been endemic within Arab-Israeli communities in recent months. Another NIS 20 million ($6 million) will be invested over the next 10 years to repair infrastructure in Arab cities and towns, and three Bedouin unrecognized villages, areas where Ra’am traditionally consolidate their main base of support, are also set to be legalized by the government

Finally, the party said it also attained the coalition’s agreement to discuss amending the controversial 2017 Kaminitz law, which seeks to target illegal construction but is widely viewed as discriminatory and disproportionately targeting Arab communities. Whether or not Abbas’ demands are realized will ultimately depend upon the success of the coalition. However, as highlighted earlier, foundational demands of the Arab-Israeli community vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Nation-State Law and other wider-reaching issues have not been addressed. Despite the agreement regarding the initial proposals, which seek to address some of the economic and social disparities within Arab-Israeli society, should the new coalition remain grounded in political inertia in dealing with larger-scale political issues, this will fail to address the underlying grievances responsible for fuelling the recent violence seen within mixed Jewish-Arab cities. Perhaps, it may pave the way for such violence to repeat itself shortly. For now, it appears the political status quo will remain unchanged under this new coalition.

The Editor: Ali Drabu

Ali Drabu is a postgraduate student studying an MA at King’s College London in Intelligence and International Security, and completed his Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the University of St Andrews. His academic interests focus on foreign policy and regional security issues in the Middle East. He has had previous experience in exploring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and engaging in voluntary work in the West Bank.

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