14 June 2021   Leave a comment

Naftali Bennett is the new Israeli Prime Minister, ending Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure as Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister. Prime Minister Bennett was confirmed in that role by a vote of 60-59 in the Israeli Knesset. Bennett’s political party, Yamina, holds only a small number of seats in the Knesset in his governing coalition. He owes his position to the willingness of Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid, to join the coalition even though Bennett and Lapid are miles apart in their political stances. Bennett has often advocated for the almost complete annexation of the West Bank by Israel while Lapid, a former journalist, has tried to emphasize secular politics in Israel.

Bennett’s coalition also includes, for the first time in modern Israeli history, an Arab Islamist political party. The party, Ra’am, is led by Mansour Abbas and it represents a significant change in Israeli politics–prior to this coalition all the major political parties had refused to include any of the Israeli Arab parties. It is also safe to say that many Israeli Arabs are not sure that cooperating with the Israeli government is a wise move. But Abbas was able to elevate Ra’am’s visibility in the new government: “Abbas called the participation of Ra’am in the coalition a “courageous move” that won his party the leadership of two Knesset committees — the interior committee and the committee on Arab community affairs. The party also received the role of deputy chairman of the Knesset and deputy minister at the prime minister’s office, together with quite a few economic plans and budgets for the Arab community. No doubt Abbas succeeded in the mission he was on to influence the political game in Israel in order to improve the situation of the Arab community.”

Bennett’s coalition was united only on one issue: to oust Benjamin Netanyahu. There is no common agenda to move forward, so it is unlikely that we will witness significant changes in Israeli domestic or foreign policy. I suspect that attention will focus on the Israeli domestic economy which, like most economies in the world, suffered because of the effects of the COVID pandemic. Bennett was once a close ally of Netanyahu and shares many of Netanyahu’s positions, especially on the Iranian nuclear deal. But Bennett will be constrained by the need to keep the coalition intact and will not have a great deal of freedom to follow his preferences on West Bank annexation. But Israel learned new lessons after the recent conflict with Hamas. First, the Israeli Arab population can no longer be taken out of the security equation. The protests by Israeli Arabs against the military actions in the Gaza Strip posed serious problems for Israeli security forces. Second, the strong objections by some members of the US Democratic Party to the Israeli military actions indicates that the almost automatic support for Israel can no longer be taken for granted.

Netanyahu also remains a threat. He chose to not go “gently into the night” after the Knesset vote and said on Sunday: “If it is destined for us to be in the opposition, we will do it with our backs straight until we topple this dangerous government and return to lead the country.” Axios quoted a senior Israeli diplomat as saying “He [Netanyahu] decided to damage the U.S.-Israel relationship for his own personal interests and is trying to leave scorched earth for the incoming government.” As long as Netanyahu remains a threat, the members of the coalition will know that any disagreement with the government may bring about Netanyahu’s return. So the very fragility of the governing coalition will impose discipline on its disparate parts.

Video of the Turmoil in the Knesset as Netanyahu is Ousted.

Posted June 14, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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