Israel’s parliament is set to vote on Sunday on a new government that will oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power after an uninterrupted twelve years at the helm of affairs. The prospective government – an unprecedented coalition of ideologically divergent political parties drawn from the Right, the Left and the Centre, along with an Arab party – has a razor-thin majority of one seat. The Knesset (Israeli parliament) is scheduled to meet at 4 PM local time and sans last-minute grand surprises, Naftali Bennett, an old-time associate of Netanyahu and leader of the right-wing Yamina party, would take over the mantle from his one time mentor leading a fragile government with a razor-thin majority of 61 lawmakers in a 120 member house.
The approval by the Knesset would bring to an end twelve years of uninterrupted rule by Netanyahu, 71, who holds the record of being the longest-serving Prime Minister in the country’s history. Having served in the position earlier between 1996 and 1999, Netanyahu last year surpassed the record held by one of the Jewish state’s founding leaders, David Ben-Gurion. The formation of the new government would end the political impasse in the country that saw four elections in less than two years leading to inconclusive results.
But opinion polls suggest that majority of the Israelis do not look too hopeful regarding the longevity of the coalition of eight disparate parties who do not see eye-to-eye on most of the critical issues facing the country. Bennett, 49, has entered into a power-sharing agreement with Centrist leader Yair Lapid, the head of the Yesh Atid party, under which the latter would take over Premiership in September 2023, serving for two years till the end of the term. Lapid, the leader of the second-largest faction in the Knesset with 17 seats was invited by President Reuven Rivlin to form a coalition after Netanyahu, leading the Likud party with 30 seats, expressed his inability to put together a government backed by a majority of the lawmakers.
The unstable coalition that Lapid has managed to put together faces severe challenges and the glue that seems to hold them together is the ‘unity of purpose’ created by the agenda of ousting Netanyahu. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that 71-year-old Netanyahu, seen by many as Israel’s ‘divider in chief’, also in a strange way has proved to be a unifier, bringing in together unthinkable allies to form a government of national unity never seen in Israel’s history.
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Many analysts feel that the two factors likely to prolong or determine the tenure of the new fragile coalition are the fear of Netanyahu’s return and also a possible political demise of some of the right-wing factions that have gone against the wishes of their voting constituency to join hands. It also includes Bennett’s Yamina party which has to score some “major wins" to restore the faith of its supporters in the movement. Interestingly, almost one-third of the people standing in unity to oust Netanyahu would otherwise be his ‘natural allies’ ideologically, having also worked as his close associates in the past.
An overwhelming majority of the prominent figures in the new coalition have been his ‘staunch supporters-turned-foes’ because of personal issues more than ideological ones. Even though the country went through four general elections within two years since April 2019, the right-wing parties put together always had a firm majority in parliament.
Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party could have easily mustered the support of the majority of the lawmakers if it had decided to put him aside but chose to stand by their leader. However, with power almost slipping out of their hands, a quiet discontent within the party is perceptible and gaining strength.
Many analysts believe that Netanyahu’s long-term ‘invincibility’ led to arrogance because of which he went on pushing his friends away from him each time there were differences of opinion, simultaneously also labelling them as Leftists as if it was a stigma. They also accuse the Prime Minister of sharpening internal cleavages within the Israeli society by putting one section of the population against the other to suit his political interests.
It is still not all over for Netanyahu, who has dominated Israel’s political landscape for years and would remain the head of the right-wing Likud party and become the leader of the opposition. He has railed against the likely new government, calling it a “dangerous coalition of fraud and surrender" and has vowed to “overthrow it very quickly".
Bennett’s Yamina party with seven seats came joint fifth in the election. One of its members announced that he will vote against the government, bringing down its voting strength on the floor to six and that of the coalition to 61. The coalition agreement involving eight factions with the 61 seats required for a majority was signed on June 2, just about half an hour before a deadline was due to expire.
Bennett’s government would be unlike any that has preceded it in Israel’s history since it attained independence in 1948. The alliance contains parties that have vast ideological differences, and perhaps most significantly includes the first independent Arab party to be part of a potential ruling coalition, Ra’am. The coalition partners are likely to be at loggerheads over a range of issues e.g. Israeli policies towards Palestinians, Jewish settlements, negotiations with the Palestinians, advancing gay rights, such as recognising same-sex marriages and going into even foreign relations.
Bennett has indicated that his government would focus on areas where an agreement was possible, like economic issues or the coronavirus pandemic, while avoiding more contentious matters. “Nobody will have to give up their ideology," the Prime Minister-designate recently said adding, “but all will have to postpone the realisation of some of their dreams… We’ll focus on what can be achieved, rather than arguing about what cannot".
The new government is expected to have a record number of eight female ministers. Netanyahu is fighting corruption cases on fraud, bribery and breach of trust charges, which he denies. If he were to go into the opposition, he might be denied parliamentary immunity.