The Israeli street entered a persistent state of protest for months, and it wasn’t until Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, decided to fire the defense minister that it reached its raging stage. A state of civil disobedience was soon declared by the Israeli civil society.
I. A Bird’s-Eye View of Recent Developments
1. A general strike and civil disobedience were declared by members of civil society, including unions, some universities, and opposition groups like the Federation of Trade Unions, the Doctors Syndicate, and the Journalists Syndicate.
2. The general strike call was endorsed by the stock market, banks, maritime industry, malls, embassies, and airlines.
3. In a political statement, Netanyahu offered to freeze the judicial reform bill in exchange for the end of civil disobedience.
4. The various Knesset committees responsible for economic and social legislation have arranged a package of bills, including:
a. A bill to increase parental tax credits and expand work allowances.
b. A proposed law amending the government health insurance statute to cover rare diseases.
c. An amendment to the law regarding maternity leave for women, which would lengthen the time off of work.
d. A proposed law to advance the principle of equal pay for individuals with disabilities.
e. A bill that would favor government workers.
f. A bill for Public Housing.
g. A proposed law to protect widows’ rights.
h. A proposed law to alter the general budget’s priorities for the country in 2023. In this regard, recent changes primarily focus on lowering the property tax.
i. A bill to increase unemployment compensation.
j. A proposed law to reduce social disparities through the provision of additional benefits.
5. After Netanyahu’s speech to freeze the judicial reform bill, some civil society organizations announced the end of civil disobedience. However, other civil society organizations, like the Labor Union and some opposition parties, made it clear that the goal is to reinstate the fired defense minister and to repeal the judicial reform legislation, not just to freeze it. As a result, these organizations announced the continuation of the general strike.
6. Protest leaders in Israel emphasize that the demonstrations must go on because they want to completely scrap the judicial reform bill, not just delay it.
7. President Isaac Herzog requested that Netanyahu, opposition leader Yair Lapid, and former defense minister in Lapid’s government, Benny Gantz, form negotiating working groups. Gantz will name members of the Knesset to a negotiation team that will visit the Israeli president’s home to discuss the crisis’ resolution.
8. Right-wing organizations like La Familia urged their followers to attend a rally in Jerusalem in support of the administration’s proposal to make significant changes to the judiciary. The police have stated that they will increase their presence at right-wing protests.
9. Opinion polls suggest the following parties could win the following number of seats in a general election:
Table 1: Potential Israeli electoral victories for each party
|State Party (Benny Gantz)||23|
|There is a Future (Yair Lapid)||19|
|United Torah Judaism||7|
|Hadash (The Joint List)||5|
II- Possible Scenarios
Depending on what happens next at the national, Knesset, and community levels, as well as those of the opposition led by Yair Lapid and the second man in the opposition, Benny Gantz, following possible scenarios can emerge.
Scenario One: Netanyahu’s Steadfast Adherence to His Stance
This scenario would indicate the failure of the national dialogue between the Netanyahu government and the opposition delegation led by Lapid and Gantz and supervised by the Israeli president.
This scenario is supported by the persistence of extremist religious parties in the coalition government, such as the Otzma Yehudit party and Defense Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is unconvinced of the viability of dialogue with the opposition or capitulating to the demonstrators’ will.
Netanyahu’s televised speech promising to never give up on judicial reform, as well as the steadfast refusal of some government ministers within the ruling party, the Likud Party, such as Minister of Justice Yariv Levin, to put a hold on the judicial reform bill or allow the reinstatement of the defense minister after his dismissal.
This scenario is supported by the rising likelihood of street protests by supporters of the extreme right, including young people from groups like “La Familia”, and the consequent risk of violent attacks.
This hypothetical situation is based on the strategic significance of judicial reform legislation, which leads to reaching an extreme right-wing formulation consistent with Netanyahu’s version of the Israeli constitution and beginning to enact fundamental laws that pave the way for a right-leaning Israeli constitution, which aroused the concern of the Israeli public and the opposition.
However, in evaluating the viability of the scenario, we find that it necessitates Netanyahu to exert control over the Israeli street in order to: (1) put an end to civil disobedience and the general strike; (2) allow people to go back to work in order to stop the economic bleeding; (3) divert attention away from Yoav Gallant’s return to his position as defense minister; and (4) split the opposition’s ranks in its national dialogue with Netanyahu over the judicial reform crisis.
By looking at how the Knesset acted on 27 and 28 March, it appears that the government has a tendency to introduce laws that serve economic and social considerations for Israeli society with the aim of appeasement. This is because economic and social considerations are among the primary motivations for the Israelis’ protest, in addition to value and ideology.
The majority of the aforementioned issues, however, will probably be challenging for the Netanyahu administration to resolve because they will force many of its officials to resign and prevent the Knesset from voting in favor of the judicial reform law. As for the Knesset legislation that seeks to reform the economy and society, it is still in the early stages of discussion and will take at least a full month to be approved and put into effect. In addition, 65 percent of Israelis think Yoav Galant should take up his old position again.
Furthermore, Netanyahu will lose a significant portion of the voting bloc that is associated with his camp due to his adamantness. In the most recent poll, he received only 58 seats, falling short of the Lapid-Gantz camp’s total of more than 57 seats (which can be increased).
Early elections would throw the Netanyahu camp (the right-wing camp, not just the Likud party) into a complex web of political calculations with the center and the left.
Scenario Two: Success of the National Dialogue
This scenario requires two things: (1) an agreement to delete contentious items like the prime minister’s immunity law and the exception clause, which is one of the most contentious items because it limits the Supreme Court’s ability to overturn legislation that it deems to be in violation of the basic laws of Israel, which serve as the constitution, and (2) an agreement to draft new legislation that differs from what was proposed in the Knesset.
The continuation of the general strike in Israel’s streets, which reflects public pressure on Netanyahu, the drop in Netanyahu’s support as a candidate for prime minister in the event of fresh elections, and the reduction in the number of seats he might secure all lend credence to this scenario.
The US position, which calls for Netanyahu to “correct the current situation and not continue the chaos”, supports this scenario as well. US President Biden expressed concern about the proposal to weaken the Israeli judicial system.
While the Israeli president has called for a national dialogue to resolve the impasse over judicial reform, the “People’s Plan” he unveiled just a few days ago does not appear to be consistent with the basic rules for dialogue. Instead, it will follow different guidelines from those proposed by Herzog.
The State Party, led by Benny Gantz, presented a document outlining the fundamental tenets for negotiating judicial reform, including (1) the judiciary’s non-politicization and (2) the inclusion of divisions devoted to public service.
According to our assessment of the viability of this scenario, Netanyahu, whose popularity and that of his right-wing camp are declining in Israeli society, would not want Benny Gantz to continue building a sizable support base, which resulted in his party winning 23 seats in recent polls. It’s also possible that the situation will lead to a meeting between a representative of the United States and Benny Gantz, who is the second man in the Israeli political scene. Therefore, Netanyahu must stage a situation so that he can influence the outcome in his favor while preventing Gantz from gaining political advantage and taking on the role of an official in the eyes of the Israeli public.
Since Itamar Ben-Gvir, the Minister of Security, is resisting pressure to halt legislative reform, it may be difficult for Netanyahu to realize this scenario, but he can compromise by forming the National Guard and handing over its leadership to Ben-Gvir command. As part of the deal reached with Netanyahu to halt the legislation, the defense minister will present the government with the proposed decision to establish the National Guard. The proposal will outline the formation of a committee charged with recommending the organization’s launch within 60 days.
Scenario Three: Fifth Election
In this scenario, the members of the Knesset decide to dissolve the body and hold early elections after Netanyahu observes the resignation of a number of ministers or the defection of a number of government coalition members from the majority bloc.
There are a number of indicators that point to this possibility, including the rise in opinion polls that call for the overthrow of the government and the continuation of the protests that endanger democratic principles and Israeli society’s unity.
The fact that the coalition’s extremist religious parties are losing support and may abandon Netanyahu’s ship and call for new elections if this trend continues bolsters this scenario.
This scenario also lends credence to the idea that the national dialogue on judicial reform might fail, as this is a strategic project that echoes Netanyahu and the far-right parties’ narrative. A necessary step before creating Israel’s final constitution is judicial reform. If the dialogue sessions go on as planned, it will open the door to rejecting some claims that would increase the influence of the extreme right in Israel, particularly in the deep state, which includes the judicial system and the military establishment.
After the general strike called by the unions, the Israeli economy became partially paralyzed until the Knesset’s legislative reform process was stopped and Defense Minister Yoav Galant’s dismissal was reversed. Local officials have said they will join the strike, and all medical services, with the exception of emergencies, have been suspended.
When evaluating the viability of this scenario, it is important to keep in mind that the Netanyahu camp is aware that it did not win a sizable number of seats sufficient to form a right-wing government coalition and that holding a fifth election entails an unanticipated risk, particularly given that the current Netanyahu government is losing external balances with the countries of the Western camp.
There is a trend in Israeli public opinion that opposes the idea of creating a national guard under Itamar Ben-Gvir because it would politicize and undermine the institution of the Israeli army and represent a separatist militia from the Israeli army.
III- Netanyahu’s Government Future Directions
It would appear that all options are on the table, and that Netanyahu’s calculations are dependent on considering every possibility. The following are potential strategies Netanyahu could employ to create his own outcome.
1. Delay Tactics
The national dialogue will give Netanyahu the opportunity to reevaluate his plans and slow the pace of protests and demonstrations in Israeli streets, especially the general strike. This could be useful for him when negotiating foreign direct investment deals with countries like the UAE, which recently signed an agreement with Israel’s government to increase free trade. As a result, Israel sent the Speaker of the Knesset to India to sign cooperation and exchange agreements in a number of fields.
2. Causing Rifts in the Opposition
According to Netanyahu, the political conflict in Israel is being driven by the opposition, which is being led by Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz. They are also in charge of the national dialogue with the government. Therefore, it is likely that Netanyahu will try to split the opposition.
This indicator between Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid is already getting worse because the former did not work with Lapid to develop the fundamental themes of the national dialogue.
This indicator is already growing between Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, as the former did not coordinate with Lapid on formulating the basic lines of the national dialogue. According to opinion polls, Gantz won five full seats from the There is a Future party led by Lapid, a situation that may provoke him.
It is likely that Netanyahu will begin to consult with Lapid and plan the introduction of legislative measures intended to advance social and economic reform, re-establishing Lapid as the leader of the opposition in the face of Gantz.
3. Electoral Base Reconstruction
Netanyahu is aware that some of the religious parties’ electoral bases have been exposed to political issues, especially since the budget-approval process has not yet been completed. He is therefore likely to begin passing laws that benefit adherents of religious parties who are employed by Israel’s executive branch.
This was reflected in legislation that gave employees of religious institutions financial assistance in the amount of ILS 6,000. This financial benefit was deemed to be an unfair economic advantage by the Federation of Trade Unions. However, with government assistance, the allowance and the plan for receiving it were approved.
4. Securitization of the Political Scene
The Israeli government and the Mossad were eager to publicize the news that a Pakistani-Iranian cell had been foiled in its attempt to attack the Jewish headquarters in Athens, Greece, bringing Iran back to the forefront of the security scene.
It is also noted that Israeli attacks and raids against Palestinians in the West Bank, particularly in the north, have intensified in order to provoke a violent response from Palestinian factions, thereby allowing the state of emergency to be imposed and reversing the momentum in favor of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (the security and military scene) from the Israeli street.
In light of the preceding, the following can be concluded:
1. Netanyahu is adamant that the judicial reform freeze remain intact and not be canceled.
2. In order to patch up some political rifts within his own government and among its supporters, Netanyahu is attempting to buy time through a national dialogue with the opposition.
3. A concerning sign for the Netanyahu administration is the loss of electoral votes in polls in the event of early general elections.
4. Netanyahu does not desire an escalation in order to prevent the United States from entering the front line and exerting actual pressure on Israel.
5. Despite the public’s propensity to favor the scenario of halting reform and starting a national conversation with the opposition, it is still only a temporary scenario to align the ranks.
6. Behind the scenes, the government is working on strategic initiatives, including the creation of the National Guard, with the goal of breaching the Israeli army, the last bulwark of the deep state.