By Ramzy Baroud
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 far-right and right-wing groups like Yamina, Yisrael Beiteinu and New Hope, along with the centrist Yesh Atid and Blue and White, the leftist Meretz and even an Arab party, the United Arab List (Ra’am). The coalition also had representatives from the Labor Party, which was once the dominant Israeli political camp but is now almost completely irrelevant.
When the coalition was formed in June 2021, Bennett was celebrated as some kind of political miracle-worker 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 protege of Netanyahu and even appeared to stand to the right of the Likud party leader on various issues. In 2013, Bennett proudly declared, “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 on besieged Gaza. Moreover, Bennett’s core support comes from Israel’s most extreme and far-right constituency.
Many wished to ignore all of this in the hope that Bennett would succeed in ousting his former boss. That possibility became very real in November 2019, when Netanyahu was officially indicted on various serious corruption charges.
When Bennett and Lapid’s government was officially sworn in on June 13, 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.
Some analysts continue to blame Netanyahu for the various crises suffered by Bennett’s coalition, such as when Idit Silman resigned her post on April 6, stripping the government of its majority in the Knesset. But there is little proof of that. Instead, the government 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 were still the prime minister? Not in the least. Illegal settlements continued to grow unhindered, while home demolitions, the dispossession of Palestinian communities in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem, and various routine acts of Israeli aggression against its Arab state neighbors remained unchanged.
According to UN data, 79 Palestinians were killed in the Occupied Territories by the Israeli army between June 2021 and May 2022. The region of Masafer Yatta, a 36 sq km area 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 Jerusalem, specifically in the case of May’s so-called flag march, Bennett has proved to be even more extreme than Netanyahu. Author and professor Bernard Avishai wrote in The New Yorker last month that, in 2021, “Netanyahu’s government changed the march’s route away from the Damascus Gate to minimize the chance of violence,” while the “change government” — a reference to Bennett’s coalition — “had reinstated the route, and even permitted more than 2,000 national-Orthodox activists, including the extremist national-camp Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir,” to conduct their provocative “visits” to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, one of Islam’s holiest sites.
This is not to suggest that the return of Netanyahu following the scheduled November elections — Israel’s fifth general election in less than four years — would be a welcome development. Instead, experience shows us that, regardless of who rules Israel, the political attitude of the country, especially toward the Palestinians, remains unchanged.
True, Israeli politics are known to be unstable. This instability has, however, worsened in recent decades. Since 1996, Israel has held an election every 2.6 years. But since April 2019, the average has dramatically shrunk to less than a year per government. The long-standing argument was that Netanyahu’s domineering and polarizing attitude was to blame. The last year, however, has demonstrated that Netanyahu was a mere symptom of Israel’s 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, much of Israel’s parliamentary and electoral laws have been in effect for many years, dating back to the time 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, who are currently fanning the flames, jockeying for positions and feeding on the violent chants of their supporters, would have to be transformed into something else entirely — a near impossibility in the current hate-filled atmosphere throughout the country.
The chances are that Israel’s political crises will continue to loom large. Coalitions will be assembled, only to collapse again soon after; politicians will continue to move to the right, even if they allege to be members of other ideological camps. Israel’s political instability is now the norm, not the exception.
In an interview with CNN, Yohanan Plesner, a former member of the Knesset, said that the problems relate to 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 that are predicated on far-right, 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 run with a militaristic, chauvinistic and colonial mindset.