Knesset coalition of Jews and Arabs: What does the future without Netanyahu holds for Israel?

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Source : 112 Ukraine

July 2, a new coalition of eight ideologically diverse parties was formed in the Israeli parliament. The conservative political force "Likud" Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been in the chair of prime minister since 2009, this time found itself in opposition. On the same day, the parliament elected Yitzhak Herzog as the new president of Israel, who at one time served as Minister of Social Security and led the Social Democratic Party "Labor" ("Labor Party"). The coalition agreement must be ratified by the Knesset. The change of power is unlikely to take place without consequences for Israel's foreign policy
10:00, 7 June 2021

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu

Coalition of antipodes

The process of forming a coalition in the Knesset has been dragging on since March 2021. After Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, which won the early parliamentary elections in Israel, failed to form a coalition, this power passed into the hands of Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party took second place in the number of votes. Four weeks later, half an hour before the deadline, he managed to form the most unusual coalition in the history of Israel. It is an alliance of eight ideologically completely different parties. The central figures are the leader of the centrist party Yesh Atid ("There is a future"), ex-finance minister Yair Lapid, head of the far-right Yamina (New Right) party, former defense and education minister Naftali Bennett and head of the Arab minority party Joint Arab List ("Raam") Masud Abbas.

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Naftali Bennett will serve as prime minister until 2023. The Yamina party opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, for the annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank of the Jordan River, and promotes the idea that the State of Israel allegedly belongs only to Jews. Bennett is a descendant of American Jews, a lawyer by training, a retired special forces major who participated in the Second Lebanon War in 2006. He made a fortune in the IT business. In the second half of the 2000s, he worked in Netanyahu's office, when he headed the opposition, and in 2013-2020. held ministerial posts in his government. However, the Yamina party does not have much political weight, as it won only 7 seats in the Knesset following the March elections. The prime minister's seat became a kind of payment for Bennett's joining the coalition, although he initially promised not to do so. Netanyahu called the politician's act "the deception of the century." Bennett will find it difficult to promote his party's line in a coalition with the centrists and will have to seek compromises with them.

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The foundation of the coalition is the Yesh Atid party of former journalist and finance minister Yair Lapid, which holds 17 seats in the Knesset. This time, the son of former Justice Minister Tommy Lapid will receive the portfolio of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and in August 2023 will replace Bennett as Prime Minister, according to the agreements. Yesh Atid defends the interests of secular liberals and the middle class: it advocates a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (coexistence of a Palestinian and Jewish state), combating corruption, conscription for all citizens, including Orthodox Jews, increasing spending on the social sphere and education.

For the first time in history, a political force representing the interests of the Arab minority entered the ruling coalition in the Knesset. If Bennett and Lapid are antipodes, then the position of the leader of the Raam party, Israeli Arab Masoud Abbas, echoes the interests of the Palestinians: the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank with Jerusalem as its capital, equality of Arabs and Jews. In 2018, a law on the nation-state was passed, according to which only Jews have the right to self-determination in Israel, only Hebrew is the official language (Arabic received a special status), and Jewish settlements are recognized as a national value.

Related: Netanyahu invites King Mohammed VI of Morocco to Israel

Other prominent political figures who supported Lapid and Bennett include the leader of the right-wing Our Home Israel party Avigdor Lieberman and the leader of the Kahol Laban bloc Beni Gantz. Lieberman aspires to the post of finance minister, and Benny Gantz - to the post of defense minister. Surprises can be expected from them too. In any case, the beginning of the political crisis in Israel was laid by Lieberman's withdrawal from the coalition with the Likud in November 2018 due to the government's restrained reaction to missile launches from the Gaza Strip. In 2020, Gantz launched an information campaign against Netanyahu despite his party's coalition agreement with the Likud. The former chief of staff opposed the annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank during the coronavirus pandemic.

Contradictions between Lapid, Bennett, and Abbas are likely on domestic issues. Disagreements can cause the coalition to collapse like a house of cards. Therefore, one should not exclude an early return to the political Olympus "Likud" and Netanyahu. He is even compared to Donald Trump. As the results of the parliamentary elections showed, the aged politician has a close-knit, reinforced concrete electorate among conservative Jews ("bibists"). The Likud has the largest faction in the Knesset (30 seats). Netanyahu is a serious competitor and therefore the new government will make efforts to bring the politician to legal responsibility for bribery, the use of his official position for personal gain, manipulation of the media in the interests of the Likud. The politician is blamed for all this.

Related: Ukraine asked Netanyahu to act as mediator in talks with Russia

Israel's foreign policy

The main priorities of Israel's foreign policy will remain unchanged: strategic partnership with the United States, containment of Iran and its allies search for mutual understanding with Arab states, rapprochement with non-CIS countries, where there are large Jewish communities.

Related: US to repair relations with Palestine and direct humanitarian aid to Gaza Strip, - Blinken

However, Netanyahu's departure will leave a certain imprint. Neither Bennett nor Lapid have as strong an influence in the United States as Netanyahu. Such preferences for Israel, which the politician obtained from the United States, could not be achieved by any of his predecessors. Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Golan Heights as part of the country and Jewish settlements in the West Bank as legal. The Israeli prime minister has long known the current US President Joe Biden. Despite disagreements over the Palestinian issue and a nuclear deal with Iran, which is not supported by Israeli conservatives, the United States supported Israel during the latest escalation in the Gaza Strip.

On the other hand, given the ideological similarities between Yesh Atid and the US Democratic Party, Lapid will find it easier to find rapport with the Biden administration. Both politicians condemned Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018, repelling the principle of "two states" in the settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Israel is interested in receiving from the US $ 1 billion in military aid, since, after the recent escalation of the conflict with Hamas, it is necessary to replenish its stocks of missiles for the Iron Dome anti-missile defense systems and air bombs. At the same time, it should be borne in mind that the position of the Biden administration is at odds with that of Bennett, who is confident that the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran was a mistake.

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Most likely, the new Israeli authorities will continue to deepen and improve relations with Arab countries. In 2020, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco established diplomatic relations with Israel. The inclusion of the Arab List party in the coalition is a powerful signal to the entire Muslim world about Israel's openness to dialogue and search for mutual understanding. Massoud Abbas was appointed head of the Internal Affairs Commission in the Knesset. The politician has repeatedly spoken out in defense of the Palestinians. After Lapid supported the use of force in the Gaza Strip, Massoud took a break from the coalition talks. The presence of an Arab minority party in the coalition underscores Bennett, which is unpopular among Palestinians. Good relations with Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, are needed by Israel to contain Iranian influence.

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The new government in Israel is not a gift for Turkey, which supports the Palestinians. In 2017, Lapid called it an enemy state, called for the recognition of the independence of Kurdistan, the Armenian genocide. In 2013, Bennett called Turkish President Recep Erdogan an anti-Semite and threatened a harsh response if Israel became the target of provocations.

Perhaps the new Israeli authorities will take a tougher approach to Russia. At least in 2017, Lapid suggested Netanyahu make it clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin that if he does not take into account Israel's interests in Syria, he will have to act against the Moscow-sponsored regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Israel is annoyed that Russian troops are not obstructing arms convoys for the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah and Iran's establishment of military installations in Syria. Although in 2013 Bennett claimed that Russia is a supporter of Israel despite its ties to Iran.

Ukraine is one of Israel's foreign policy priorities in Eastern Europe thanks to its influential and large Jewish community. Ukraine and Israel are linked by a free trade zone. In August 2019, Netanyahu visited Kyiv and met with President Volodymyr Zelensky. Kyiv should establish contacts with the new Israeli authorities in order to obtain their support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine, as well as to give impetus to military-technical cooperation and trade and economic relations.

Related: Ukraine evacuates all its citizens from Gaza Strip

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