Naftali Bennett government has been endowed a unique opportunity to bring positive changes in the foreign policy of Israel. A perception is being created that this government will be ineffective due to the ideological differences among its member parties.
It is also believed that Israel’s foreign policy was distorted under Benjamin Netanyahu regime and his departure from office will create positive diplomatic momentum. This offers fertile ground for action on which the government could agree despite its diversity.
Despite Netanyahu achievements, Abraham Accords on top, his acts created deep antagonism, especially on the part of leaders of liberal democracies. He was regarded as challenging the fundamental principles of governance and democracy, supporting racist parties in Israel and abroad, and undermining prospects of a two-state solution.
Netanyahu’s credibility was questioned in Washington, Paris, Amman and perhaps in other capitals. His aggressive approach prompted loud clashes with critics of Israel, even with those inherently enjoying friendly relations. It also became evident that during the recent political crisis Netanyahu’s actions were driven, first and foremost, by his desire to remain in power.
This criticism was generally voiced behind the closed doors, but it surfaced occasionally and created much-publicized crises. Netanyahu’s oust enable the new government to improve diplomatic relations with the many countries, particularly the Muslim world.
However, the foreign policy potential of the new coalition does not stem only from Netanyahu’s absence. Yair Lapid serving as foreign minister has long been preparing himself for the job. He has entered the office with experience, contacts and plans to revamp Israeli diplomacy.
Most notably, he clearly has a strong desire to strengthen the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and its public standing. The approval of appointment of 35 ambassadors could be the biggest achievements, which Netanyahu has been holding up for over six months.
The participation of the Labor and Meretz parties in the new government will also contribute to restoring diplomacy to its rightful place in Israeli decision-making. Members of Knesset from both parties have challenged Netanyahu’s foreign policy approach repeatedly and sought to advance new paradigms and guiding principles shaping a pro-peace, multi-regional, internationalist, modern and inclusive Israeli foreign policy.
Labor and Meretz will be in charge of the Ministry of Regional Cooperation and the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs in the new government, both with distinct diplomacy components, as well as the Ministries of Health and Environmental Protection, both of which deal with issues high on the global diplomatic agenda to which Israel has much to contribute.
Their voices are also expected to be heard and exert influence regarding the Palestinian issue. In addition, the election of Israel’s new President Isaac Herzog – a pro-peace, liberal democratic leader with extensive diplomatic experience and who enjoys international respect – will bolster the assets of the new Israeli leadership and its capabilities in the international arena.
There are reasons to believe that the coalition parties can reach agreement on a series of urgent foreign policy goals that include: 1) rebuilding trust with the Jordanian monarch and restoring Israel’s strategically important ties with the kingdom; 2) deepening ties with the US Democratic Party to restore bipartisan support for Israel; 3) leveraging the normalization agreements with Arab states to forge bilateral and regional cooperation; 4) improving relations with European Union and renewing the high-level dialogue (Association Council) which has not convened since 2012; 5) leveraging opportunities in the Eastern Mediterranean, including restoring relations with Turkey and advancing maritime border negotiations with Lebanon and 6) strengthening the moderate Palestinian leadership, along with restoring Israeli-Palestinian dialogue channels to advance mutual interests.
Although, the new government is not likely to achieve a final-status peace agreement with the Palestinians, which should be a top foreign policy and national security for Israel, it could be instrumental in mending and healing Israeli foreign policy and leaving a significant diplomatic legacy that will better position Israel in the region and internationally.