Naftali Bennett’s resignation as Israeli prime minister and his withdrawal from politics altogether is a major issue in political and party terms. It has an impact on the internal affairs of the country as well as international relations. It will also affect the result of the General Election in November.
Bennett’s resignation prompted everyone to look into his failures in managing the coalition and government affairs, and those in relation to the policies and practices of the Yamina Party which he founded and led. This gave way to talking about all of the mistakes that he made during just one year in office. He only realised belatedly the difficulties of the bitter reality that surrounded him. This was clear to all who watched his resignation speech. Despite the claimed achievements of his government, he was forced to leave office and watch his delegated “alternative” prime minister, Yair Lapid, take over. He was left with no option but to go home.
The near unanimous feeling in Israel is that by stepping down, resigning and withdrawing from politics, Bennett declared that he has failed on all fronts — the coalition, the government and the party — and that his hopes have been dashed. He basically broke the promises given to his right-wing voters, creating what might be called ideological turmoil in the process. The masks have fallen and a deep conflict over the Jewish identity of the state has emerged after a number of Israelis have dared to break taboos, deny the Jewish state and lose the national compass.
Nevertheless, it is still too early to talk about turning the page, especially because of the consequences of Bennett’s sudden move, which will have significant effects on Israeli politics, parties and perhaps state security and the army. This is a sensitive time for the occupation state in terms of the accumulation of strategic threats that it faces.
At the same time, by stepping down from the leadership of Yamina, Bennett may have ensured that the party is unable to pass the electoral threshold in the upcoming election, not least because of his party replacement’s desire to join Netanyahu’s camp in the opposition. Ayelet Shaked may thus be strengthening Netanyahu’s position in the Knesset, resulting in a right-wing government that gives the latter the opportunity to return as prime minister.
Bennett was Israel’s thirteenth prime minister, and ended his 381-day tenure with a series of crises and failures. He failed to mend the growing rift within Israeli society, and went against the generals in being ambiguous in his policy towards Iran. It can be said with confidence that Bennett failed more during the shortest government in Israeli history when compared with previous heads of government.
Perhaps the most important of his foreign policy failures is that he did not succeed in increasing the number of Arab states ready to normalise relations with Israel. He also failed to prevent Palestinian resistance action against his country’s military occupation, action which has killed 19 Israelis in the past two months.
The cost of housing has risen during Bennett’s time in office. Neither he nor his ministers were able to tackle this important issue. Moreover, there was no change to the way that government officials were appointed; close contacts led the way, as usual.
His failures meant that his government collapsed from within, perhaps because its legal and political majority was never adequate from the very beginning. Bennett didn’t take care of the issue of the division which appeared in the deepening of the constitutional crisis, luring Israelis into yet another General Election campaign.
While his party management was open to question, and a prime factor in the downfall of his government, there was a scandal involving tens of millions of shekels being used to renovate his house, and the ordering of food from restaurants at state expense, which angered his neighbours.
On foreign policy Bennett was inconsistent. His ambiguity towards Iran did not stop him from making threats to attack it. There is also the ongoing stalemate on the Palestinian issue to consider.
It is obvious from all of this that his lack of political experience made him an unsuitable candidate for prime minister. His coalition partners and even members of his own party apparently recognised this early on and did their best to derail his faltering government. The end result is that he will be seen as a failure at home and abroad, which will haunt him in the years ahead.
His political opponents, including coalition partners, will no doubt use his failures to highlight the efficacy of their own election campaign promises. This may reveal previously unpublicised failures. At that point, we can expect a free for all in the rush to get a seat in the Knesset.
It has to be said that when Bennett decided to step down as prime minister, he was facing very difficult and complex circumstances, as well as intense competition and conflicts between various Israeli parties, and he failed to deal with them. It is true that he reached the pinnacle of his political career under difficult circumstances last year, but he is taking his leave while Israel is facing more severe circumstances than before.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.