A crisis for Naftali Bennett

Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s visit to India was postponed because he first caught COVID-19 right before the visit, and now he might not get to visit India soon or ever as Israel’s Prime Minister

April 21, 2022 12:15 am | Updated 02:41 pm IST

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett handles his mask at a Cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on April 10, 2022.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett handles his mask at a Cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on April 10, 2022. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Prime Minister, was scheduled to visit India for three days in the first week of April. Invited by Narendra Modi, he was supposed to come to celebrate 30 years of India-Israel bilateral relations. His visit was postponed because he caught COVID-19 right before the visit and soon new dates were to come from his office. He might not get to visit India soon or ever as Israel’s Prime Minister. There are two serious events making this likely. His government has lost its majority in Parliament last week and there is a new phase of violence in Israel making every Israeli insecure — on the street from stabbing or sitting in a coffee house or bar from bullets — like the shooting that killed three Israelis in Tel Aviv on 7 April.

It is difficult to imagine which of these two developments is going to threaten his political career as much as the domestic stability and security of the state of Israel.

Government may fall

Naftali Bennett is on the verge of losing his position as Prime Minister. Idit Silman, a lawmaker from Yamina party (right wing party headed by Bennett himself) threw a bombshell by sending her resignation on 6 April. It was out of the blue, truly for everybody in Israel, because Ms. Silman was the whip for the coalition and she was supposed to see that no one leaves, defects or gets allured by the opposition.

Ms. Silman left the government because she feels this government is ‘harming’ the Jewish identity of the State and is not loyal to the right-wing constituencies. After this defection, Mr. Bennett is holding 60 out of 120 members of Israeli parliament and any one more member’s exit from coalition will bring down the government. When he became the Prime Minister, he only enjoyed support of 61 members (of nine odd political parties that have no common minimum programme or political consensus but to avoid another national election and not let Benjamin Netanyahu form the government).

The coalition or unity government started with the notion that right, left or centrist parties will soften their core ideological principles, adhere to the basic governance and administrative stability for the sake of all the people of Israel. This realisation came after the four national elections in two years when no party could get the majority. Ms. Silman’s defection is the first major crisis for this unity government. Interestingly, no other member of her party followed her, and it seems Mr. Bennett could contain the damage. He is on a weak footing now as Prime Minister who cannot pass any laws because of the lack of majority.

Security is threatened

Ordinary Palestinians from West Bank and other Israeli cities have picked up arms to attack Israeli citizens, soldiers for a long time. The Palestinian national movement is in tatters, the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas is corrupt and Israel has managed to do well with the rockets of Hamas. The agonised Palestinian youth is recklessly acting for a lost cause. In less than three weeks, there have been four major attacks by the Palestinians that have killed 11 people and injured many. The shooting in a bar killed three and wounded 13 on one of the busiest streets of Tel Aviv on 7 April. Most successful Israeli Prime Ministers are those who bring a sense of security — the longest serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was called Mr. Security because of this most important concern. It is the sensitive issue of security that is the immediate challenge for Mr. Bennett while he is holding his government intact.

Mr. Bennett is addressing the issue of rising attacks and understands that it is where Mr. Netanyahu, an opposition leader now, can outdo him when it comes to public perception. He assures the people he is fully in charge of the situation and that ‘Israelis will win’ this ‘wave of terror’. He visited the bar in Tel Aviv where the last attack happened. He explained in an interview that it is the ‘carrot and stick policy’ that can help Israel — he thinks that there are ’quiet’ Palestinians who do not want to harm Israelis. There are Palestinians who wish to harm Israel, and he means to employ all forces against them. This approach might not bring radically different outcomes than of the previous Prime Ministers. Violence begets violence. Without a political solution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, living with the violence is an inevitable reality for most Israelis.

Given these two developments, Mr. Bennett is least likely to visit India soon. When his visit was postponed, there was also an assumption that the United States didn’t appreciate his visit to India in the week when India hosted the foreign minister of Russia, Sergei Lavrov, on April 1. The U.S. might have had some influence on Israel not visiting Delhi. This is speculative but quite likely as well.

(Dr. Khinvraj Jangid is Associate Professor and Director for Centre for Israel Studies, Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat. He is fellow with Sino-Israel Global Network and Academic Leadership (SIGNAL) and Adjunct Professor, Azrieli Centre for Israel Studies, Ben-Gurion University, Israel)

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