The hard-line leader of the Yamina Party, Naftali Bennett, was sworn in as prime minister of the new Israeli government after winning seven seats in the Knesset, the thing which raised questions about the stability of Israel’s new coalition government.
How stable the new Israeli government will be is contingent upon a range of complex multi-pronged considerations, the most important of which are:
First: The government’s political agenda, whether it is of a security, socio-economic, or political nature, focusing primarily on issues of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
According to Israeli think tanks, 67 percent of the Israeli public are of the opinion that the new government should primarily focus on the socio-economic files followed by the security files pertaining to the Iranian security threats and the adjunct challenges in the Gaza Strip posed by Hamas.
It was the Israeli public opinion that gave rise to Lapid’s success forming a new government without Benjamin Netanyahu. The electoral programs of the center and left parties focused on addressing the economic and social repercussions of Covid-19, class disparity within the Israeli community, the housing crisis, and reducing the incidence of unemployment through creating job opportunities.
At the social level, the focus is on reviving confidence in the idea of Jewish-Arab coexistence after it lost steam following the recent Gaza war which provoked violent confrontations between Jews and Arabs in Israeli cities. Parties involved in the government will put in place a number of mechanisms to achieve that through economic instruments including creating opportunities for joint work between Arabs and the Haredi Jews, promoting government investments in Arab cities, funding organizations that promote coexistence, enforcing conditional sovereignty in areas living under armed gangs that incite violence between Arabs and Jews.
However, this does not preclude security issues to be among priorities on the agenda of the new government for a variety of reasons, notably among them are the following:
(1) The overflowing power that Hamas feels following the latest Gaza war, which will prompt it to show of power, further shaking Israel’s deterrence system already in need of renovation. Reconstruction of Gaza also stands out as a new determinant of the Israeli position on the Gaza Strip. For Israel, reconstruction is a topic of controversy and of a critical security nature and that was manifested in its declaration of worry over Hamas accessing aid funds.
(2) Israel’s aspiration to enforce sovereignty in Jerusalem and in areas shared with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which would cause friction between the Israeli government and Palestinians who wish to maintain a superficial victory in areas of Bab Al-‘Amud and Sheikh Jarrah, which means these two areas will be a persistent icon for the Palestinian struggle in the future, a situation that would be welcomed by the United States realizing that this ensures stable security in Jerusalem, as is established in the Democratic Party’s platform.
(3) Israel isn’t optimistic about reaching a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran that will limit Iran’s influence in the region, or rather the activities of its regional agents, which means the Israeli army will constantly need to defend the red lines of its national security on borders with Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Arabian Gulf. Moreover, Israel’s relations with the United States on one hand and with Russia on the other and the US-Russian relations and subsequent implications on different regions including Syria and Lebanon are among the topics that will be on the agenda of the Israeli government.
Second: Public Ideological Drift: Netanyahu’s 12-year rule has been characterized by a public ideological drift toward the religious nationalist right and support of extremist religious parties’ cultural and urban sprawl in the West Bank and Israeli cities within the Green Line. This gave rise to extreme right-wing ideologies within the Israeli society that, in turn, reinforce extreme political views on different dossiers, promoting ideas like launching a military strike on Iran and pushing toward the relative decrease in the number of supporters of establishing an independent Palestinian state.
During Netanyahu’s reign, right-wing ideologies extended beyond Israel’s partisan community, meaning political parties were not the only representative of right-wing ideologies as there emerged new socio-political movements that gained influence as has been evidenced by their recurring taking to streets including the far-right Lehava and La Familia movements, both burn with hate for Arabs and call for their killing or expulsion.
Such deep ideological drift can spur the Israeli government to adopt extremist policies against Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank, including closure of prayer halls, expulsion of Palestinian families, allowing settlers affiliated with extremist movements to take to streets and provoke Palestinians, especially in holy places.
Several incidents that took place in East Jerusalem in the period from 13-23 April 2021 amply demonstrated this trend. Just before the clashes in Bab Al-‘Amud and Sheikh Jarrah broke out giving rise to the eleven-day war with the Palestinian factions, extremist settler groups called for a gathering in East Jerusalem to celebrate “national” occasions such as the unification of Jerusalem. The same scenario was repeated on 9 June and although Benny Gantz’s, Israel’s Defense Minister, call to cancellation of “Old City Flag” march in East Jerusalem, Israeli settlers ignored the call and took to the streets, which led to confrontations between the Israeli police and Palestinians.
Israel’s Jewish Nation State Law and the extent the Israeli governments embrace it will determine how stable the Israeli-Arab relations will be in mixed areas. Further, the law seems to be a key determinant of the legitimacy of the Israeli government and its continuation, which requires measuring the influence of movements and parties affiliated with the religious nationalist right.
Bennett realizes that the Knesset’s hostility to Netanyahu and its willingness to oust him of political life is the only reason that gave success to the formation of his government and winning trust of the Knesset. However, the government bring together sharp ideological differences that cannot be successfully set aside or contained for long. As such, the political parties constituting the government will seek to strengthen their political capital in the Israeli street by adopting ideological policies including building settlements in the West Bank, proposing draft legislation that pave the way for annexing the Jordan Valley to the Israeli sovereignty, introducing bills that take away Palestinians’ right to establish an independent state, enforcing new sovereign laws in Jerusalem, and submitting draft laws that promote separation of religion and the State to appease secular sects in Israel, all of which are political aspects the government may be dragged into to create new facts on the ground allowing for the Israeli narrative to guide the potential peace process.
Third: The relationship between the government and the Ultra-Orthodox (the Haredi community): The Haredi represent the extreme religious right-wing in Israel that faces serious economic and social challenges due to non-compliance to coronavirus regulations. Under Netanyahu, the Haredi will form a strong opposition front against the new government.
To maintain its cohesion and stability, the new government will make use of the social determinant of the relationship between the government and the Haredi parties. Further, it could bring this social determinant into play to break up the coalition between Netanyahu (Likud) and the Haredi parties, a not unlikely scenario although it is showing very little signs at the moment
Exempting the ultra-Orthodox from compulsory military conscription is another central issue. Lapid sees that the issue can be resolved by replacing military conscription by avenues for national civilian service. There are fears that the increasing numbers of the Haredi men exempted from military duty would undermine the military’s readiness; however, the law is expected to be passed for a deal with the Haredi pursuant to which an agreement could be reached on rules that could stop Israel’s drift to the extreme right at the public and ethical levels, at least in the Israeli cities within the Green Line.
Just as the Israeli nationalist right moved beyond partisan politics turning into a nationalist movement, the Haredi adopted another approach for expansion i.e. the demographic spread across specific Arab and Israeli cities gradually “Haredizing” those cities, a kind of soft penetration first led by Hasidic Jews in Israel, which the Haredi find welcome.
This has been the case in the Israeli city of Dimona (within the Green Line), where 20 families of the Gur Hasidic (the most influential and powerful Hasidic group) left their residential areas in the West Bank relocating to Dimona. This is a critical indicator because ultra-Orthodox families are unlikely to leave their communities for no good reason, and they certainly do not move to an area where no ultra-Orthodox educational institutions exist. Secular residents of Dimona feel uncomfortable about the new ultra-Orthodox presence in the city because of the initial nonviolent friction between their community and the newcomers.
Israeli estimates indicate that the housing crisis in the West Bank is another additional reason why ultra-Orthodox families quit their populated areas moving to other neighborhoods. This housing crisis was Netanyahu’s pretext for establishing more settlements in the West Bank to prevent friction between the Haredi sects and secular Israelis. As such, the new government will need to develop a settlement plan in the West Bank to contain the new ultra-Orthodox phenomenon, the matter that will give rise to disputes within the government leaving it up against the wall.
A third determinant of the relation between the government and the ultra-Orthodox is the increase of the Haredi population in Israel due to the high fertility rate of 4.2 percent compared to 1.2 percent for non-Haredi Israeli Jews. Above and beyond, there is the challenge of identity of immigrants to Israel, mostly dominated by the national and religious identity of their place of origin, e.g. native Eastern Europe and the United States. This phenomenon caused extreme right-wing ideologies to dominate Israeli youth, as most of those residents reject the establishment of a Palestinian state, and favor military deterrence to diplomacy. Additionally, they don’t endorse the “Land for Peace” formula, as they believe that Israel must accumulate its military power to show its capabilities not to compromise with the Palestinians. Given this, the Jewish Agency for Israel, responsible for regulating the immigration of the Jews to Israel, will need to carefully look into the Identity of immigrant Jews.
A final issue that should be considered is how far the Haredi are satisfied with the general government policies particularly the budget that will be passed by the new government, knowing that the Haredi are generally not happy with Lieberman’s control over the finance dossier.
Fourth: American Support: During Joe Biden’s candidacy for presidency, the Democratic Party’s platform underscored that the “United States should work to ensure that Israel remains a Jewish state and a democracy”. In fact, Washington does not turn a blind eye to reports concerned with democracy index in Israel, the most recent of which (Freedom House Index) indicates Israel’s transition from a democracy to a semi-democracy. This could be attributed to practices of the Israeli government under Netanyahu for over 12 years where Israel was dominated by the extreme right-wing on both political and public levels.
From the United States’ standpoint, Netanyahu’s forming of government coalitions that exclusively included extreme right-wing religious parties rather than forming a national coalition that brings together parties of the center and the left is a clear manifestation of Israel’s straying away from the path of democracy. During Trump’s administration (the most pro-Israel US administration), Trump and his National Security Advisor noted that the United States preference goes for the “Deal of the Century” (the US peace plan announced in January 2020) in the presence of a national unity government in Israel until the deal is broadly accepted by Israelis.
Hence, Bennet’s government presenting itself as a unity government could reach the ears of the current US administration and is likely to get considerable support of it in a number of aspects including the military-security, political, and economic fields to ensure stability of the current government, preventing Netanyahu from getting hold of power again.
This does not imply that the United States considers the Jewish Nation State Law, adopted in 2018 during Trump’s presidency, to be stigmatizing Israel as undemocratic and thus will not require Israel to repeal it, simply because the index is indicative of ethnic democracy rather than authoritarian democracy and the United States doesn’t see ethnic democracies as a crisis that require reconsidering taking sides with.
Overall, the wide ideological divergence within the new government can’t be considered a definite indicator of its impending failure. For the center and left parties, the new government is their field day, as it will bring them back to the political scene; so they will work to ensure it survives.
For its part, the new government will adopt socio-economic policies that target integrating various sects of the Arabs and the Haredi with the aim of: (1) restoring Israel’s image in the international community, particularly in the eyes of the United States, by restoring trust in the idea of coexistence, (2) dismantling Netanyahu’s strong opposition bloc, and (3) the inclusion of new Knesset members in the coalition government to facilitate the passing of upcoming bills.