Israel’s fragile government about to collapse
Israel’s governing coalition announced on Monday that it will dissolve parliament, or the Knesset, next week, which means that the government will disband, and the country will hold elections for the fifth time in three years.
The move comes weeks before U.S. President Joe Biden is set to visit, and it adds another chapter to Israel’s continuing political turmoil. New elections are now expected in late October.
In Bennett’s telling, the government will be dissolved in order to preserve the two-tier legal system that separates Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the West Bank. With regulations granting settler protections set to expire at the end of the month and their extension mired in parliamentary gridlock, Bennett said the dissolution—which automatically extends the law until a new government is formed—was necessary to avoid “security risks” and “constitutional chaos.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, along with his coalition partner, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, formed the coalition in June 2021 after two years of political deadlock, ending former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s record 12 years in power.
Pointing to achievements including boosting economic growth and eliminating the budget deficit, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday vowed to fight for the survival of their unlikely coalition of right-wing, liberal and Muslim Arab parties.
“We’re marking a year since the establishment of the national salvation government. Any honest person would admit that this is one of the country’s best governments, which leans on one of the most difficult coalitions the Knesset has ever known,” Bennett said in broadcast remarks at the start of his weekly cabinet meeting.
“We will not despair and we will not break.”
What is behind this?
With a razor-thin parliamentary majority and divisions on major policy issues such as Palestinian statehood, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and issues concerning religion and the state, the alliance began to fracture when a handful of members defected.
In April, the coalition lost its majority in Israel’s 120-seat parliament when a member of Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party, Idit Silman, announced her departure.
And since a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence in March, Lapid has been struggling to contain tensions in his camp with two Knesset members from Israel’s Arab minority, many of whom identify with the Palestinians.
In recent weeks, another trickle of defections and rebellions left Bennett’s coalition without the ability to pass legislation, raising questions as to how long it can survive.
The United Arab List has also threatened to withdraw in protest over Israeli attacks on Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, as well as continued raids in the occupied West Bank that killed Palestinians.
Haaretz reports that Bennett made the Monday decision in order to preempt rebel and opposition lawmakers who were set to vote to dissolve the Knesset themselves later this week. (Religious parties, which were left out of the coalition, hailed the collapse and credited divine intervention.)
Bennett had already warned of a possible collapse earlier this month after Nir Orbach, another member of the Yamina party, said that he would stop voting with the government coalition.
The final straw came two weeks ago when a bill extending Israeli civil law to settlers in the occupied West Bank was defeated in parliament.
The settler law, which would normally enjoy broad support in parliament and has been repeatedly renewed over the past 50 years, failed due to the increasingly bitter climate between the government and opposition, with the latter choosing to vote against a law they support in order to further weaken the government.
Ultimately the contradictions within the governing coalition have proven to be too insurmountable, particularly as the government had very little wiggle room in parliament, and an opposition that was determined to bring it down.
The most likely scenario may be an election between December and April, according to public broadcaster Kan’s leading political analyst, Yoav Krakovsky, who has described the government as “passing the time for the sake of buying time”.
Polls released by Channels 11, 12 and 13 predict that another election won’t change the makeup between the pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs enough to end the deadlock that has plagued Israel’s political system for over three years.
The Likud-led bloc — which also includes the Religious Zionism, Shas and United Torah Judaism parties — does stand to gain ground from its current 52 seats, but none of three polls see them picking up a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Channel 11 and 12 polls put them at 59 while Channel 13’s survey has them at 60. All three polls show the Likud would be by far the largest party in the Knesset if elections were held today, projecting Benjamin Netanyahu’s party to win 35 or 36 seats.
The far-right Religious Zionism party — thanks to the popularity of neo-Kahanist MK Itamar Ben Gvir — would jump to nine seats, according to all three polls.
The left-wing Meretz party, which has taken a beating over the conduct of its rebel MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, doesn’t cross the 3.25 percent electoral, according to the Channel 13 poll, while Channel 11 and 12 have the party barely squeaking into the Knesset with four seats.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party would receive either four or five seats, according to the polls, with Channel 12’s predicting that the faction’s voters would turn to center and center-left parties if the premier decides not to run at all.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who is slated to become interim prime minister as early as next week, would receive between 20 and 22 seats, according to the three network polls, improving from his current 17.
The Islamist Ra’am party, which became the first independent Arab party to join a coalition, is expected to hold its ground at four seats, the polls indicated.
Similar results were given for just about every other party in the current Knesset, which are expected to remain close to their current seat-count total. Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party, which has not crossed the threshold in a number of recent polls, is predicted to barely bridge the 3.25% minimum, according to all three polls.
The networks also asked respondents who they felt was most suited to serve as prime minister. Forty-seven percent of respondents said Netanyahu, 31% said Lapid, 18% said they didn’t know and four percent said none of the given options. Lapid’s numbers jumped by six percent since the last time Channel 12 asked that question several days ago — before it was revealed that he would be replacing Bennett as premier.
Many Israelis are tired of elections, and the prospect of another one before the end of the year may lead to more apathy.
However, if the country does head to new general elections, they will have to be held within 90 days of the parliament’s dissolution, with a possible date of October 25 already put forward.
The new vote could set the stage for a return to power for Netanyahu.
Netanyahu has said he will return to office. “I think the winds have changed. I feel it,” he declared.
Netanyahu’s camp is now courting individual members of the Knesset, as well as entire parties, in an attempt to get them to defect.
Opinion polls have forecast that Netanyahu’s hardline Likud will once again emerge as the largest single party. But it remains unclear whether he would be able to muster the required support of a majority of lawmakers to form a new government.
Ultimately it will boil down to whether Netanyahu, who continues to face corruption charges and is an extremely divisive figure in Israeli politics, even on the right wing, will be able to convince enough politicians to back him again.
The implications this would have for Palestine are colossal, as should a new government be formed under Netanyahu, with a majority in parliament, then the bill to extend the enforcement of civil law in the occupied West Bank would likely be passed, and a more united Netanyahu government would be able to impose more oppressive measures on the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza, as we saw in his previous lengthy stint in government.