Winds of change: On Benjamin Netanyahu’s exit

Israel gets new coalition, but it is unlikely to survive long with its ideological contradictions

June 05, 2021 12:02 am | Updated 09:21 am IST

In Israel’s fractious political landscape, Benjamin Netanyahu has been known as the master of survival. In power since 2009, he has seen allies come and go, protégés turning out to be rivals, and elections happening in the shortest intervals. But he hardly missed an opportunity to turn crisis into political gain, which allowed him to become the longest serving Prime Minister , overtaking David Ben-Gurion. However, this may be ending. A coalition of eight parties , under the leadership of Opposition politician Yair Lapid, could oust Mr. Netanyahu from power and form a ‘change’ government. In this, Mr. Lapid, who leads the centrist Yesh Atid party, has joined hands with the right-wing Yamina of Naftali Bennett, and other parties ranging from pro-settlers to left-wing and Arab parties. According to the coalition agreements, Mr. Bennett, who was part of the far-right Jewish Home before founding Yamina, would be the PM for two years followed by Mr. Lapid. Mr. Lapid says his coalition has the support of 61 Members of the Knesset (MKs) — a razor-thin majority in the 120-member Parliament. Messrs. Lapid and Bennet are now pushing for a quick vote in the Knesset, while Mr. Netanyahu is putting pressure on the right-wing MKs of the coalition to vote against the government.

Even if the coalition does sail through the Knesset vote, it might, with its conflicting ideological views, remain fractious and feeble. But that does not diminish the importance of the political changes that are under way. The country has seen four elections in the last two years, with no party winning a majority on its own in any. Last year, Mr. Netanyahu formed a short-lived unity government with the Opposition leader, Benny Gantz. Mr. Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White, is now with Mr. Lapid. It is Mr. Netanyahu’s repeated and failed attempts to form a stable right-wing government that have led the anti-Netanyahu parties from across the spectrum to come together. Also, this is the first time in Israel’s history that an Arab-majority party has signed a government coalition agreement. Till last year, Arab parties were considered untouchables by the mainstream Jewish parties. But now, the United Arab List (Ra’am), which has 4 MKs, has officially joined the coalition, breaking a political separation wall. If voted out of power, Mr. Netanyahu will have to fight a corruption trial and possible leadership challenges within the Likud without the shield of premiership. When the Gaza fighting broke out on May 10, coupled with riots in Israeli cities, many thought it would help him politically. But the Gaza fighting appears to have weakened his position among his right-wing allies, who alleged that his government surrendered to Hamas by agreeing to the ceasefire. Mr. Netanyahu is now caught between unhappy right-wing allies and a united opposition.

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