Background. For weeks, Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) tried to concoct enough seats to form a coalition government that would end Prime Minister Netanyahu’s long-standing stranglehold on power.
This process saw the emergence of a new kingmaker: Naftali Bennett from the right Yamina (New Right) Lapid needed seven Knesset seats to meet the 61-seat threshold required to form a government. In order to secure Netanyahu’s defeat, Lapid agreed to let Bennett serve as prime minister, while he heads the foreign ministry. In 2023, they will switch roles, under the terms of the deal.
The turbulent coalition will now be a mishmash of eight political parties spanning the entire ideological spectrum: it will likely include Raam, an Arab Islamist party focused on increasing funding for Arab-Israeli communities, as well as right and left factions. The only thing that really unites these groups, however, is the desire to dismiss Benjamin Netanyahu. Interestingly, some of these politicians, including Bennett, are former proteges of Bibi who have learned the tricks of the trade from the political holder himself.
But too bad for what they are all against – what are they for? Once in power, the future coalition will have to face a multitude of problems that could threaten its survival.
Reform justice. Netanyahu has long been accused of attempting to erode confidence in the judiciary as part of an ongoing effort to derail the corruption case he is currently facing. The fact that currently the attorney general, handpicked by the prime minister, advises both the government while overseeing investigations (including the one into Netanyahu himself) has raised concerns about a conflict of interest. Gideon Saar, a Likud defector who is likely to lead the new Justice Department, has been push hard for a law that would solve this problem by dividing the role of the attorney general in two. However, left-wing parties in the future government have reportedly expressed their opposition to this reform, arguing that politicians should leave independent justice alone. Saar will have to make compromises.
Immigration. Tens of thousands of African migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, have entered Israel over the past decade, making immigration a burning issue. Yamina’s Ayelet Sheked, an anti-immigration hawk and close ally of Bennett, is likely to lead the Home Office, giving him the immigration portfolio. Shaked, for his part, has previously attempted to pass the “anti-infiltration law” – a harsh bill aimed at discouraging certain types of migration to Israel. The Supreme Court of Israel has ruled some of these measures unconstitutional.
While Shaked may struggle to get the pro-immigration faction in the coalition government – which includes the left-wing Labor and Meretz parties – to approve his proposal, as home chief she may tighten the already strict rules on asylum applications. (Haaretz recently reported on Israel’s diplomatic ploy to send African migrants back to “bloody dictatorships” in Africa.)
Infrastructure and the West Bank. Naftali Bennett is strongly in favor of the installation, having long defended for Israel to annex parts of the occupied West Bank because of the large Jewish populations in those areas. The previous Likud government, meanwhile, also upgraded infrastructure moving plans, including new roads connecting the settlement blocs to major cities.
However, the Ministry of Transport should now be headed by the President of the Labor Party Merav Michaeli, a darling of the left. Michaeli will attempt to shift the ministry’s infrastructure priorities to focus on areas outside the West Bank, but his agenda could be hampered, at least in part, by the pro-settlement wing of the future coalition.
Palestinian question. Not much is likely to change on this front. Lapid, leader of the vast “change camp”, is a centrist whose opinions are squarely in the current Israeli Jewish consensus. Lapid says he supports a two-state solution but opposes the division of Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of a future state. The settlements are unlikely to expand under this government, as they did substantially under Netanyahu, but neither are efforts to advance the moribund peace process.
Meanwhile, on issue of fight against Hamas in Gaza, most coalition parties – and most Jewish Israelis – are aligned: poll recently showed that 72% of Israelis supported their government’s response to Hamas rocket fire.
What’s the next step for Bibi? When this coalition takes power, Bibi will probably be stay leader Israel’s largest political party and will lead the opposition in the Knesset, although he continues to face corruption charges that could eventually send him to jail. In the meantime, there is no reason to believe that Bibi will not do everything in her power to undermine the power-sharing government by trying to exploit the differences within the ideologically diverse coalition. If he succeeds, it would precipitate another election that could bring him back to the Prime Minister’s seat.