Israeli PM Bennett’s Rocky First Month in Office

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Edited by Medlir Mema, PhD
Fellow, Middle East Policy


A month since the formation of the new Israeli government, PM Naftali Bennett’s path forward appears as uncertain as ever. The razor-thin majority holding together an unlikely coalition of parties, constantly undermined by former PM Binyamin Netanyahu, has already brought the government to the precipice. For some, last week’s impasse on the renewal of the Nation State Law is only a sign of worse to come. Mr. Bennett’s need for policy compromise is unlikely to satisfy many of his constituents. Unfortunately for the Palestinians, little seems to have changed, with demolitions and expulsions continuing apace in East Jerusalem.

Given the narrow mandate following the latest parliamentary elections, it was never in doubt that Mr. Bennett would have his work cut out for him. In fact, immediately after the announcement of the new government, Shirit Avitan-Cohen, writing for Globes, warned, “Naftali Bennett’s inherently unstable coalition faces both domestic and foreign pressures that could easily tear it apart…. Israel’s incoming government has one basic problem: it is very heterogeneous, with nine parties spanning ideological extremes, from Yamina and New Hope on the right to Labor and Meretz on the left. In order to survive, it will have to avoid dealing with controversial matters that represent core promises to individual parties, from LGBT rights to change in the religious status quo to diplomatic issues.”

It has surprised no one that many in the Israeli media would be quick to turn against the new government at the first sign of trouble. They didn’t have to wait long. In an op-ed for Israel Hayom, Ido Sarim urges the prime minister, rather curtly, to do less talking and more working: “Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, your government’s contrarianism is annoying, and at the moment seems like the only consistent thing you and your political partners have in common. If this is what we have to listen to for the next four years, I beg of you – please stop…. Either you wake up and lead the country courageously and confidently, or go back to writing books for your headlines. Spare us this destructive and unbecoming conduct and use the opportunity you managed to manufacture for yourself and your seven mandates and show this new way of doing things you’ve been talking about already…. Spare us the performances, the incessant mudslinging, and mainly – this obsessive search for someone to blame. Get to work.”

Another line of criticism is related to the government’s efforts to hold on to the Trump administration’s decisions regarding the status of Jerusalem, which. in cooperation with the Netanyahu government, unsettled the status quo. Alex Traiman, a managing director at Jewish News Syndicate, suggests that Mr. Bennett’s government “is grappling with an attempt to roll back one of the most significant foreign-policy achievements of the Netanyahu era…. As part of a Middle East policy reset that seeks to undo many of the policies initiated by the Trump administration, the Biden administration is now pressing Israel to reopen the consular mission to the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem…, a first major foreign-policy test for Israel’s fragile coalition. Former Mayor Barkat warns that Bennett ‘must not allow a move that will divide Jerusalem’.”

Yet another challenge that almost brought the new government down just last week was the debate surrounding the Nation State Law, a deeply controversial piece of legislation, the renewal of which as Times of Israel’s Anna Roiser points out, despite being stalled in the Knesset, received a boost from Israel’s Supreme Court: [The] decision to uphold the Nation State Law surprised no one: striking down the law would have been perceived as a bold political intervention and resulted in an escalation of the attacks to which the court is already subject…. The Nation State Law demonstrates that Israel remains a nation unable to come to terms with its past by recognizing the true character of its Palestinian population as a homeland minority, as part of a people whose long history in the land was disturbed and uprooted by the fulfillment of the Zionist vision. Until this history is acknowledged and respected, and Palestinian citizens attributed the rights flowing from it, meaningful equality for Palestinians and Jews in Israel will remain out of reach.”

As Yedioth Ahronoth’s Tova Zimuky explains, the Nation State Law has been deeply flawed from the beginning, motivated by former PM Netanyahu’s desire to instrumentalize a rise in violent attacks within Israel to shift unfavorable demographic patterns for Israel: “The law’s declared purpose is based in security concerns that many Palestinians arriving in Israel would take advantage of the freedom of movement granted to them in order to carry out terrorist attacks. But the main, undeclared reason is demographics…. In essence, legislators feared that Palestinians would take advantage of marriage to Israeli Arabs to threaten the Jewish majority in the country. This created the situation in which the law completely prevented family reunification and eliminated the need to individually examine each couple who applied for official status in Israel.”

On the Israeli-Palestinian talks, some believe that, given the government’s composition, it will be impossible for Bennett to make any significant headway. Gershon Baskin, in a recent Jerusalem Post op-ed, strikes a similar note of pessimism, tempered by what he considers some faint positive signs: “Due to its very diverse makeup, I don’t believe that the new government of Israel is capable of carrying out permanent-status negotiations with the Palestinians. I also don’t believe that the state of internal Palestinian affairs makes negotiations from their side possible…. We need to change the vocabulary and the paradigm of peace…. The only disengagement we need is the disengagement from the mentality and the reality of occupation…. Naftali Bennett, Yair Lapid, Esawi Frej and President Isaac Herzog have begun to reengage, and that is the right thing to do. Now it has to become the strategic choice of both official Israel and official Palestine.”

Of course, part of the challenge lies in the fact that Bennett, for both personal and political reasons, must demonstrate that he remains committed to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. According to a report for Albawaba by Madeeha Al-A’raj: “In a meeting that included Minister of Internal Security Ayelet Shaked and members of the West Bank Settlements Council, [all] agreed to continue the settlement policy as it was in the previous government, and that the “Higher Council for Planning and Building” meet every 3 months in the Civil Administration to ratify more new settlement units…. In addition, Ayelet Shaked said in a recent interview with “Israel Today” newspaper that the new government will not change the classification of areas in the West Bank from C to A or B, even if there is an American demand on that, and the government will not freeze settlement in the West Bank, and certainly not in Jerusalem.”

It appears that, for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, there may be little to distinguish the Netanyahu government from the current one. That realization lies behind an op-ed written by Najla Shahwan for the Daily Sabah decrying the ongoing oppression of Palestinians in East Jerusalem: “Palestinian residents in Silwan are under great pressure from Israeli settlers. Silwan is a prime example of how Israel gears its policies toward Palestinians and their properties, the keystone to the sweeping, systematic process…. On June 7, the Jerusalem municipality issued a series of demolition orders to residents of the al-Bustan area in Silwan. The 13 families affected, consisting of some 130 people, were given 21 days to evacuate and demolish their houses themselves…. This is how it works in occupied East Jerusalem, and Israeli law has made it difficult for Palestinian families to appeal the demolition orders before the courts.”

There are many factors that lie behind these draconian policies by the Israeli government, but as Ramzy Baroud puts it in his Arab News column, the issue comes back to Israel’s standing accused of waging a “demographic war on Palestinians…. This one-sided war is based on the belief among Israel’s Jewish majority that the country’s greatest challenge is sustaining its demographic advantage…. Following last week’s vote, what is likely to happen next is that Israel’s Ministry of Interior will continue to find caveats in the country’s ever-flexible statute book to block the reunification of Palestinian families until the Knesset officially renews the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law or, worse, makes it permanent. Either way, Israel’s demographic war on Palestinians is likely to intensify. Considering that this is a war that cannot be won rationally, Israel will fall deeper into the abyss of apartheid.”


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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