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As the chaos gets worse, political instability is now the norm in Israel

July 13, 2022 at 8:57 am

Naftali Bennett, Israeli’s new prime minister and leader of the Yamina party, right, speaks with Yair Lapid, Israeli’s new foreign affair minister and leader of the Yesh Atid party, during a meeting of the new government at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Israel, on Sunday, June 13, 2021 [Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

The collapse of the short-lived Israeli government of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid validates the argument that the political crisis in Israel was not entirely instigated and sustained by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Bennett’s coalition government consisted of eight parties, welding together arguably one of the oddest coalitions in the tumultuous history of Israeli politics. The mishmash cabinet included right wing and far-right groups like Yamina, Yisrael Beiteinu and New Hope, along with centrist Yesh Atid and Blue and White, leftist Meretz and even an Arab party, the United Arab List (Ra’am). The coalition also had representatives from the Labor Party, once the dominant Israeli political camp, now almost completely irrelevant.

When the coalition was formed in June 2021, Bennett was celebrated as some kind of political messiah, who was ready to deliver Israel from the grip of the obstinate, self-serving and corrupt Netanyahu. Confidence in Bennett’s government, however, was misplaced. The millionaire politician was a Netanyahu protégé and, on many occasions, appeared to stand to the right of the Likud party leader on various issues. In 2013, for example, Bennett declared proudly, “I have killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there is no problem with that.” In 2014, he was very critical of Netanyahu for failing to achieve Israel’s objectives in one of the deadliest wars against the Palestinians in besieged Gaza. Moreover, Bennett’s core support comes from Israel’s most extreme and far-right constituency.

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Many wished to ignore all of this, in the hope that Bennett would succeed in ousting his former boss. That possibility became very real when Netanyahu was officially indicted in November 2019 on various serious corruption charges.

When Bennett and Lapid’s government was officially sworn in on 13 June 2021, it seemed as if a new era of Israeli politics had begun. It was understood that Israel’s political camps had finally found their common denominator. Netanyahu, meanwhile, was exiled to the ranks of the opposition. His news began to peter out, especially as he sank deeper into his ongoing corruption trial.

Though some analysts continue to blame Netanyahu for the various crises suffered by Bennett’s coalition —when Idit Silman resigned her post on 6 April, for example, leaving the coalition government with only 60 seats in the Knesset — there is little proof of that. This particular short-lived Israeli government has collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions.

Would the actions of the government that ruled over Israel between June 2021 and June 2022 have been any different if Netanyahu was still the prime minister? Not in the least. Illegal Jewish settlements continue to grow unhindered; home demolitions, the dispossession of Palestinian communities in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem and various routine acts of Israeli aggression against its Arab neighbours have remained unchanged.

Israel: fifth election likely to result in political deadlock - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Israel: fifth election likely to result in political deadlock – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

According to UN data, 79 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank by the Israeli army between June 2021 and May 2022. The region of Masafer Yatta, a 36 square km area located in the Southern Hebron Hills, has been designated for total annexation by the Israeli army. The expulsion of the area’s 1,200 Palestinian residents has already begun.

Regarding occupied Jerusalem, specifically in the case of the so-called Flag March, Bennett proved to be even more extreme than Netanyahu. Bernard Avishai wrote in The New Yorker that, in 2021, “Netanyahu’s government changed the march’s route away from the Damascus Gate to minimise the chance of violence.” The “change government” — a reference to Bennett’s coalition — “reinstated the route, and even permitted more than two thousand national-Orthodox activists, including the extremist national-camp Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir” to conduct their provocative “visits” to Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa, one of Islam’s holiest sites.

This is not to suggest that a return of Netanyahu, following the now scheduled November election — Israel’s fifth general election in less than four years — would be a welcome change. Experience has shown that, regardless of who governs Israel, the political attitude of the country, especially towards Palestinians, is most likely to remain unchanged.

While it is true that Israeli politics are known to be unstable, this instability has worsened in recent decades. Since 1996, the average Israeli government has not served more than 2.6 years. However, since April 2019, the average has shrunk dramatically to less than a year per government. The long-standing argument was that Netanyahu’s domineering and polarising attitude was to blame. The last year, however, has demonstrated that Netanyahu was a mere symptom of Israel’s pre-existing political malaise.

Some Israeli analysts suggest that Israel’s political crisis can only end when the country institutes electoral and constitutional reforms. That, however, would be a superficial fix; after all, many of Israel’s parliamentary and electoral laws have been in effect for many years, even when governments were relatively stable.

For Israel to change, a language of peace and reconciliation would have to replace the current atmosphere of incitement and war. Israeli politicians are currently fanning the flames, jockeying for position and feeding on the violent chants of their supporters. They would have to be transformed into something else entirely, a near impossibility in the current hate-filled atmosphere across the country.

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In an interview with CNN, former Knesset Member Yohanan Plesner said that the problem is Israel’s need for “electoral and constitutional reforms, such as making any attempt to initiate early elections dependent on a two-thirds majority in parliament and amending the current law that demands new elections when a budget fails to pass.”

What Israelis refuse to face is the fact that governments which are predicated on right wing, far-right and extremist constituencies are inherently unstable. Even if a purportedly centrist or even leftist prime minister finds himself at the helm of the government, outcomes will not change when the Knesset — in fact, most of the country — is governed by a militaristic, chauvinistic and colonial mindset.

The chances are that Israel’s political crises will continue to loom large; coalitions will be assembled, only to collapse soon after; and politicians will continue to move to the right even while they claim to be members of other ideological camps. As the chaos gets worse, Israel’s political instability is now the norm, not the exception.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.