Five challenges for Israel's new government

Change block party heads meeting in early June credit: Raanan Cohen

Naftali Bennett's inherently unstable coalition faces both domestic and foreign pressures that could easily tear it apart.

Israel's incoming government has one basic problem: it is very heterogeneous, with nine parties spanning ideological extremes, from Yamina and New Hope on the right to Labor and Meretz on the left. In order to survive, it will have to avoid dealing with controversial matters that represent core promises of individual parties, from LGBT rights to change in the religious status quo to diplomatic issues.

Israel's 36th government faces five main challenges:

1. Security

Israel ended Operation Guardian of the Walls with the situation still highly explosive in its mixed Jewish-Arab cities, and with threats in the background from Hamas of further escalation in the event of any development not to its liking in Jerusalem (the Flag March planned for Tuesday, for example). With Ra'am and Meretz in the coalition, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will have to find a cast-iron solution to prevent a further wave of disturbances in the mixed cities, thereby challenging his left-wing partners, but with the backing of Avigdor Liberman, Gideon Sa'ar, and Benny Gantz. Riots by Israel's Arabs during the last IDF operation caused Bennett to declare that he would not be part of the coalition that Yair Lapid was putting together. Now he heads the government, with Arab party Ra'am an important element in it.

2. Social policy

The chief issues for Meretz, Yisrael Beitenu, and Labor in the last election campaign were social ones: imposing the core school curriculum on haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) schools by making this a condition for receipt of state funding; legislation to advance rights for the LGBT community; and public transport and open stores on Saturdays. Although Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has signed agreements on these matters with these parties, Bennett's Yamina is not a signatory, and has declared that these agreements do not bind it.

Not only that, but Islamist party Ra'am will certainly not support legislation on LGBT rights. Every time that a Knesset member from the coalition seeks to promote a private bill on these matters, he or she will encounter a veto by Yamina or New Hope in the ministerial legislation committee. The question is how far the parties that have promised change on these issues will be able to withstand continued obstruction.

3. Governance

The Bennett-Lapid coalition has just 61 supporters in the 120-seat Knesset. With a more homogeneous coalition of 61 MKs in 2015, Netanyahu found it very hard to govern and advance policy. Just yesterday morning we received a further demonstration of the power of an individual in such a coalition, with the announcement by Eli Avidar, who was elected on the Yisrael Beitenu list, that he would serve as an independent member of Knesset, in effect bringing the coalition's numbers down to 60. Before that, it was Nir Orbach, an obscure MK on the Yamina list, who had everyone hanging on his word while he debated whether to support the coalition or not. For any legislation or budget that the government wants to pass it will have to find the 61st finger. Any such vote could in an instant turn into a vote of no confidence.

4. The budget

Within 140 days, the coalition has to pass the 2021-2022 state budget. That's what the coalition agreements call for. The challenges are clear, as they are for any government: what programs will be budgeted? Will there be spending cuts, and if so on which sections of the population will they fall? What matters will be left out despite the desire of party leaders to promote them? And what will be the cut that will make one of the coalition parties say "We quit"? Lapid and Bennett will have to navigate skillfully between the main demand of the coalition parties, while it will be Minister of Finance Avigdor Liberman who holds the reins, and he has not up to now been wont to appease his partners.

5. Foreign policy

When the new US administration wants to promote a peace plan, as every US administration does, it will set the cat among the pigeons in Israeli politics. A construction freeze in Judea and Samaria, evacuation of settlements, a summit meeting between Bennett and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas - any of these could be the straw that breaks the backs of the right-wing partners in the government, who in any case look as though they have been dragged into it unwillingly (chiefly the members of Yamina, and the prime minister himself). If US President Joe Biden wants the elected government in Israel to last, he had better shelve any peace plans.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on June 14, 2021

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2021

Change block party heads meeting in early June credit: Raanan Cohen
Change block party heads meeting in early June credit: Raanan Cohen
Shirit Avitan Cohen, Danny Zaken and Nevo Trabelsi
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