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Israel’s motley coalition has one goal: Ousting toxic Netanyahu

Jun 02,2021 - Last updated at Jun 02,2021

After four deadlocked general elections in two years, with the daunting prospect of going into a fifth, Israel is on the verge of forming a coalition government that will bring to an end 12 years of often controversial rule of Benyamin Netanyahu. On Sunday, the head of the ultranationalist Yamina Party and former defence minister Naftali Bennett, now dubbed the king maker, announced that he received the backing of the six elected members of his party to form a coalition government with head of the Yesh Atid Party and the one with the presidential mandate, which expires on midnight Wednesday, Yair Lapid.

But it’s not a done deal yet and alliances may unravel at the 11th hour. On Monday pressure was mounting on leaders of various parties joining the coalition to either withdraw or demand concessions. 

Under the tentative rotation agreement, Bennett will become prime minister first while Lapid will be an alternate premier. The government will have a two-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset. To do that, Bennett and Lapid had agreed to go into alliance with Labour, Yisrael Beiteinu and Meretz; a combination of leftist, centrist and right wing parties. The two also hope to reel in Benny Gantz’ Blue and White and Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope parties. The government will still need the outside backing of the United Arab List, which will support the coalition without becoming part of the government. Constructing such a wide ranging alliance let alone maintaining it will be a challenge, but despite the deep ideological differences there is one common objective: to bring Netanyahu down. 

The 71-year-old Likud leader, who had dallied with Bennett when he had the mandate to form a government, launched a vehement attack on Sunday on the potential successor and the new government. Netanyahu described Bennett, 49, of committing “the fraud of the century” and that the new government will be a left wing one. He warned that he was the only one capable of forming a right wing government. He asked what message the new government would send to Gaza and Iran.

Israel has had enough of Netanyahu, who in the past 12 years has poisoned Israeli politics, according to critics and former allies. The task at hand is to remove him and leave him out in the cold to face possible jail time for crimes that he allegedly committed while in office that include receiving bribes and breaching public trust. He is already facing an internal coup within his party as members are now calling for his replacement as leader.

The fact that Netanyahu may be gone does not bring good news to the Palestinians or to the rest of the world. Bennett, the son of US immigrants, is a far right ultranationalist who opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and supports gradual occupation and extending Israeli law over more than 60 per cent of the West Bank. A former member of the Likud party, Bennett served as head of the main political body, Yesha Council, from 2010 to 2012 that represents Israeli settlers living on occupied Palestinian land. He was given a number of portfolios in previous Netanyahu governments. His view of Israel’s Arab population is not that positive as well. In 2014, then-minister of economy and religious services Bennett released a letter addressed to Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up about 20 per cent of the population, warning them against becoming a “fifth column”.

Bennett also advocates increased Jewish control over Al Aqsa Mosque complex in occupied East Jerusalem, In 2014, Bennett, the self-made tech millionaire, told a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organisations that Israel was attempting to exercise greater control over the Noble Sanctuary, stating that he had already taken measures that would “ultimately influence the eastern side of Jerusalem, and that will include the Temple Mount.”

Still some analysts believe that as head of a so-called government of “change” that will include left wing and centrist parties, while relying on support in Knesset from Arab legislators, following through on occupation would be politically unfeasible for Bennett. It is worth noting that his main partner, Lapid, 57, a secularist and former journalist, is more focused on the economic concerns of the Israeli middle class while calling for the gradual phasing out of rules that exempt Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community from military service.  He had also proposed new measures to limit what he characterised as the disproportionate influence of minority parties, such as the ultra-Orthodox and West Bank settler parties in Israeli politics. His party’s programme may clash with that of Bennett’s who relies on the support of these minority parties.

The most pressing question that Israeli analysts are asking now is how long would this Frankenstein-like coalition survive before internal ideological differences begin tearing it down? Most likely it would not complete its full term. But the longer it lasts the more difficult it would be for Netanyahu to make a comeback. That for now is the rope that keeps all these partners tied together. Most likely the new coalition will be more like a caretaker government while the country rids itself of years of Netanyahu’s toxic legacy.

 

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.    

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