Upheaval in Israel’s Government by Steve Kramer
A new governing coalition has been formed by Ya’ir Lapid, whose centrist Yesh Atid party (There is a future) came in second behind Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu’s Likud. The paperwork proving that Lapid can definitely form a government was handed to Israel’s outgoing president, Reuven Rivlin just before midnight on June 2 (the deadline). But don’t think that it’s a done deal.
Here, coalition governments consisting of numerous parties are the rule. Lapid’s eight-party coalition is the most cumbersome ever, ranging across the full political spectrum. It includes Ra’am (United Arab List) chairman Mansour Abbas, which will be the first coalition deal ever signed by an Arab party in Israel’s history.
Now Likud will postpone the Knesset’s required vote of confidence in the proposed government for a period of up to 12 days, hoping to entice at least one member of the proposed coalition to desert Lapid’s razor thin majority. If Likud succeeds, a fifth election will likely be held in the fall.
Bibi’s terms in office have exceeded those of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, making Bibi Israel’s longest serving prime minister. He has been Israel’s leader for 12 years since 2009, having previously served in that role from 1996 to1999. His tenure has been marked by some incredible achievements, notably the Abraham Accords, but now things have changed.
“The elections have proven there is no right-wing government under Netanyahu. There’s unity [with Lapid] or fifth elections,” Naftali Bennett said in a nationally televised address at the end of May. This cogent statement came after weeks of Bennett vacillating between the heads of the two largest parties, Bibi Netanyahu and Yair Lapid.
Bennett became the “kingmaker” for a new government following Israel’s fourth election in two years. Though his party didn’t win many seats, Bennett remained open to joining either Bibi or Lapid. In the end, Bennett, a staunch conservative, distrusted Bibi’s promises and threw in his lot with Lapid, with whom he will rotate the position of prime minister during the four-year term – if the government endures.
Mansour Abbas was also a kingmaker because he too considered joining either Lapid or Netanyahu. In the end, the 10 votes from Bennett and Abbas have put Lapid over the finish line. Bibi will head the opposition while dealing with the serious charges leveled against him in Israel’s highest court.
I voted for Naftali Bennett in all four of Israel’s recent elections. Why didn’t I vote for Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, when his Likud party is the leading right wing party? It’s because I had become disenchanted with Bibi, Israel’s political “magician,” the longest serving prime minister, in the twelfth year of continuous power (out of fifteen total.)
Many people, including me, feel that Bibi has succumbed to the Achilles heel of power: the belief that only he can steer Israel on its best course. Few will deny that Bibi has tremendous ability as a politician, as a statesman, as an orator, a strategist, and more. But most of know that power corrupts. In fact, Bibi could be found guilty of several crimes against the state for which he now stands in the docket of Israel’s highest court.
But Bibi has been indicted, not convicted, so he may in fact not be guilty, which I fervently hope is the case. It’s not pleasant to recall that both a previous president as well as a previous prime minister have served time in prison for criminal acts. So, I hope Bibi is innocent, as I had hoped in the case of Prime Minister Olmert and President Katsav.
It’s not whether Bibi is found guilty or not that has put Israel through so much turmoil. It’s the reality that his personality has alienated so many people, that the country has, in the main, divided into pro and anti-Netanyahu factions. Many of those who support Bibi look upon him as a “king,” while many who would replace him consider Bibi an undemocratic despot.
I am more pragmatic. I believe Bibi cooked his own goose as head of the Likud party. In at least three instances, Bibi discarded close allies whom he feared (correctly) might eventually seek to displace him. Bibi burned bridges with former adjutants Naftali Bennet, Gideon Sa’ar, and Avigdor Liberman (who also heads a party), ensuring that his suspicions would become reality instead of grooming promising politicians to succeed him at a time of his own choosing.
Bibi’s reputation for backing away from promises is well established. This played a big part in both Bennett and Sa’ar disbelieving him when Bibi promised each one to rotate the premiership if he joined him to achieve a Knesset majority. But Bibi’s recent behavior – out-maneuvering Alternate Prime Minister/Minister of Defense Benny Gantz – dashed any chance of another would-be candidate falling for Bibi’s promises.
The Likud party did indeed win the most “mandates” by far in the fourth election, but all four times Bibi couldn’t obtain the 61 Knesset seats needed to form a government. Incidentally, Bibi tried to entice an Arab party to join with Likud before Lapid did, though he now castigates the opposition for succeeding at the same tactic. The end result is that Mansour Abbas is joining the Lapid-Bennett grouping to form the “change” bloc.
As I and many others hope, this new unity-style government will be successful and will last a full four-year term. Some Israelis are skeptical and fear the worst from this upheaval. But if the eight parties work together and legislate what is the best for all Israelis, some will say it’s a miracle.