The Israeli government was formally approved on June the 13th which means that we are currently witnessing its fourth week of existence.
This coalition of 8 different parties with a wide variety of ideologies has already had to weather numerous challenges. With only having been brought in by a vote of 60 to 59 (with one abstention from within itself from Ra’am and one defection from Prime Minister Bennett’s own party), almost any individual can bring it down.
Let’s review just some of the challenges faced by this coalition.
1 – Gaza.
Hamas had boasted after the recent ceasefire, on the 21st of May that it had succeeded in stopping Ra’am from joining any Israeli government coalition.
Just three weeks later, Hamas was probably handed its biggest defeat of the current bout of conflict when Mansour Abbas took his Ra’am party into government.
And when Hamas tested out the new government which now includes Ra’am, Meretz and Labor, by almost immediately launching incendiary balloons into Israel and starting numerous fires, unlike Netanyahu’s somewhat weaker policy in this regard, it was met with Israeli airstrikes in retaliation.
Hamas did not escalate further – for now.
2 – On internal matters
Today’s Israel is far more nuanced than in earlier years and there is no longer such a thing as someone being either exclusively left or right. One can be left on one issue and right on another.
It’s worth noting that when it comes to internal issues in Israel, such as socio-economic matters, religious status quo, gay rights and many many other areas, the current government is actually far less divided than on first appearances.
7 of the 8 parties are generally liberal and quite progressive.
In fact, it is the Israeli Arab party Ra’am which is the most conservative, chauvinistic and homophobic within the coalition.
So, around many of Israel’s internal issues, the coalition is relatively well disposed and Ra’am is unlikely to desert it over these matters.
3 – The Abraham Accords.
Foreign Minister Lapid has begun strongly with his successful visit to the UAE.
He was also rightly publicly fulsome in his praise of Netanyahu’s important role in getting these Accords across the line.
President Trump had made an offer to the Palestinians – as good or bad as it was – of independence in 70% of the West Bank/Judaea & Samaria.
Like it or not, in some form or another, all American presidents have held to a two entity type solution in general principle.
The Palestinians’ outright rejection, without even a counter offer and the subsequent Abraham
Accords, showed that they no longer hold a veto over Arab countries signing peace deals with Israel.
On what to do about the Abraham Accords and on potential further agreements with other Arab countries, the coalition government is unified.
4 – The Palestinians
Regarding any potential deal with the Palestinians in the foreseeable future, the government understands that nothing is in the offing. Moreover, with Mahmoud Abbas politically damaged goods amongst his own people, there is no current credible leader, or Palestinian leader of any note, to talk to.
Lapid has set a firm tone, laying the blame for lack of progress on the Palestinian front exactly where it belongs – on the Palestinians.
On June the 29th, at a press conference in the UAE, Lapid said:
“Arab partners like the United Arab Emirates cannot play a meaningful role in improving conditions in the West Bank and Gaza if the Palestinians do not seek to work toward that goal. In the end, the Palestinians themselves have to want to move forward in order for someone else to come in and help them. That’s not the case right now.”
The real question facing the government is what to do and not do in preparation for any potential future arrangement – unlikely as it seems.
And this will test the coalition repeatedly.
No one in the government wants to annex the entire West Bank/Judaea & Samaria – primarily for demographic reasons.
Bennett’s position is to assert real authority over all of Area C– this is where all of the Jews live and relatively fewer Palestinians – and to stop illegal Palestinian expansion there.
Although Trump’s proposal halves the amount of Area C that Israel would retain in any final arrangement, importantly the Jordan Valley would remain with Israel. This would dramatically improve Israel’s security situation vis à vis any possible future Palestinian entity.
The coalition is divided on just how far and hard to go in Area C.
This was tested by the events in late June around the unauthorised/illegal outpost of Evyatar, which had grown quickly in a spot that had been unsuccessfully settled previously.
Despite the coalition makeup, the government reached a deal with the settlers in Evyatar and they evacuated peacefully with various promises made to them about a possible future return.
At this point in time, it is unclear who really won this stand off and in due course it, or similar events, will test the government again.
4 – The Jewish State
This is probably the most contentious overall issue within the coalition with both Ra’am and Meretz either opposing or not supporting the concept of Israel being a Jewish State.
Nothing tested the new government as much as a piece of legislation that was originally passed in 2003 and which has been passed annually ever since.
About 130,000 Palestinians entered Israel and received citizenship or residency via family reunification between 1993 and 2003.
Since 2001, some 155 individuals involved in terrorist activities obtained entry to Israel under family reunification laws, according to the Shin Bet.
It is expected that some 200,000 Palestinians would gain Israeli citizenship or residency each decade were it not for this legislation.
Therefore, this family reunification presents both a security and a demographic challenge.
As Lapid said on the 5th of July: “This is one of the tools designed to ensure the Jewish majority of the State of Israel. Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and our goal is that it should have a Jewish majority.”
After some amendments to try and assuage some of the government’s own members, the legislation went to a Knesset vote on the 6th of July.
The result – 59 to 59. The legislation did not pass. Two members of Ra’am abstained and one of Bennett’s own party also refused to vote for it.
Meretz expressed relief that the government they are part of failed to pass its own motion, with some questioning how they had supported it in the first place?
Just as counter-intuitively, the Likud, who had always supported this legislation and still believe in it, were willing to now oppose it in order to try and bring down the government.
In odd scenes, the Likud found itself celebrating the defeat of this legislation, together with the other Israeli Arab party on the opposition bench – the Joint List.
Nothing shows the tenuous nature of this government’s existence as much as this vote.
Even when policy might be agreed across most of the Knesset, on this indication, the passing of such generally agreed to legislation seems secondary to attempting to bring the government down.
The irony is, that in its short existence, this vote aside, the new government has given the appearance of being effective and broad-based.
And in the main, Israel’s government is actually functioning.
The big question is of course – can it survive and for how long?
Ron Weiser is the Honorary Life Member ZFA Executive and Honorary Life President, ZCNSW