By Ramzy Baroud
Israel’s coalition government, led by right-wing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, is on the verge of collapse, which is hardly surprising. Israeli politics is, after all, among the most fractious in the world and this particular coalition was born out of the obsessive desire to dethrone Benjamin Netanyahu.
While Netanyahu was successfully ousted in June last year, Bennett’s coalition has been left to contend with the painful reality that its odd political components have very little in common.
On April 6, Israeli lawmaker Idit Silman defected from the coalition, leaving Bennett and his temporary allies wrangling with the fact that their government no longer has a majority. Now that the Knesset count stands at 60-60, a single defection could send Israelis back to the polls, which has been quite a habit recently.
Two current Bennett allies, Abir Kara and Nir Orbach, are possible defectors. Even Bennett’s old Jewish Home partner Ayelet Shaked could ultimately betray him once his coalition ship begins sinking.
Both Bennett and Shaked left the Jewish Home party in 2018 to form Yamina. Although this alliance won only seven seats in the March 2021 elections, it proved to be the kingmaker, which allowed the anti-Netanyahu coalition to be formed. The only alternative to this coalition would have been a government in which Netanyahu and Bennett alternated the prime minister’s post. Though Bennett is a protege of Netanyahu, the current prime minister knew too well that his former boss could not be trusted.
So, Bennett instead opted to join a hotchpotch coalition of political desperados, each joining an unlikely government due to simply having no other option. For example, Yesh Atid (17 seats) and Kahol Lavan (8 seats), which was once part of the Blue and White center-right coalition, betrayed their political base by joining the far-right Yamina and, consequently, leaving behind the Telem party of Moshe Ya’alon, which now has no Knesset representation.
The same can be said of Labor (7 seats) and Meretz (6 seats), which were previously the backbone of the Israeli political establishment — in 1992, they had 56 seats combined. Losing faith in their own political base, they opted to join their supposed ideological nemesis instead of enduring the painstaking process of breathing life into a dying camp.
The captivating part of the story is the United Arab List of Mansour Abbas, which is rightly perceived as having betrayed its Arab base in Israel and Palestinian people everywhere. As the Israeli army is cracking down on Palestinian communities throughout historic Palestine, including Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Negev — Abbas’ own base — this strange political creature remains committed to Bennett, though nervous about future possibilities, especially as the nature of the Israeli attacks on Palestinians are increasingly shifting toward a religious war.
Consequently, it is hard to imagine that Bennett’s government could realistically survive until 2025. In fact, it is quite rare in Israeli politics for any government coalition to serve its full four-year term. Still, Israel’s historical political instability is worsening. In fact, Bennett’s government is the outcome of an agonizing process that saw Israelis cast their votes in four general elections in only two years.
Perhaps what is keeping Bennett’s coalition together, though precariously, is the menacing image of Netanyahu, the current opposition leader, sinisterly watching from across the Knesset aisles, waiting for the right opportunity to pounce. Some Israeli analysts even argue that Silman’s defection was largely instigated by the abuse and intimidation she received from Netanyahu’s Likud party, which saw her as a traitor to their right-wing agenda.
Regardless of the fate of Bennett’s government, Israel’s political crisis will continue indefinitely.
Though the Israeli right has dominated the country’s politics for many years, especially since 1996, it remains fractious and opportunistic. The constant need to feed the insatiable appetite of the country’s powerful right-wing constituency keeps pushing the right-wing parties ever further to the right. They are united around such values as the racial and religious supremacy of Israeli Jews, their hate for Palestinians and Arabs, a desire to expand the illegal Jewish settlements, and the rejection of any mediated solution that would provide Palestinians with their basic human rights.
The left in Israel is, frankly, not a left at all. It is recognized as such largely because of its peace process legacy, which died with the assassination of Labor Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Tellingly, Rabin was not a peacenik but one of Israel’s most militant and violent leaders. However, there is an erroneous link that says any Israeli leader who was involved in the so-called peace process must be a “leftist.” According to Israeli analyst Oz Aruch, this even applied to Ariel Sharon, despite the notorious late prime minister and army general being associated with the Sabra and Shatila massacre, along with other horrific episodes. Without a real ideology and without a peace process, or even the desire to engage in one, the Israeli left has become irrelevant.
The same applies to the center. Despite the right being in a constant state of redefinition and the left having no strong ideological base, the Israeli center has proven equally hopeless. The outcome of the April 2019 elections, when the centrist Blue and White coalition obtained 35 seats, should have been a watershed moment for Israel’s political center. This ultimately amounted to nil, however, and eventually led to the collapse of Blue and White itself.
While this is taking place in Israel, the Palestinian body politic has been slowly reanimating. Though the Palestinian parties in Israel remain divided and Palestinian groups in the Occupied Territories are yet to find their common ground, Palestinian communities, especially the younger generations, have been articulating a new political discourse. Grassroots leaderships are coordinating their actions from Jerusalem to Gaza, from the Negev to the West Bank and to Palestinian communities in Israel itself.
For the first time in many years, Israel finds itself in a position where it is no longer the only party that is shaping events or determining outcomes in the country. Therefore, the Israeli political instability will only worsen. Contrastingly, Palestinians are finally becoming a factor in Israeli politics and, through their popular resistance, can mobilize to put pressure on Tel Aviv, as has been the case in recent years.