Israel’s New Governing Coalition Under Heightened Political Pressure

  • 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 Council


The last-minute agreement between Yamina’s Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid has opened the door to the creation of a new-national unity government. Despite the disparate political agendas represented by the members of the new coalition, their desire to bring to an end Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu’s 12-year tenure may have proven decisive. However, Mr. Netanyahu has vowed to leave no stone unturned in the effort to bring the coalition down, and the heated rhetoric from the far-right camp has become a cause for concern. The challenges will only get tougher for a Bennett-Lapid partnership, especially as their parties hold only a combined 24 Knesset seats out of 120.

In an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, Emily Schrader welcomes the creation of the new coalition, characterizing it as “the right choice for Israel,” and that, considering “the fact that so many divergent parties could come together to form a government is a positive step…. The viability of Israel’s historic coalition remains to be seen, but while no coalition is perfect, there is much to celebrate…. One of the chief criticisms of the new coalition has been that the only unifying power is unseating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But what these critics are missing is that, even if that was the only factor (which it is not), it would still be an important coalition with historical significance that moves the country forward…. In the aftermath of the severe hostilities we’ve seen in recent weeks, the fact that so many divergent parties could come together to form a government is a positive step.”

Optimism regarding these historic developments quickly gives way, however, to a litany of concerns about the challenges that lie ahead. In a recent op-ed, The Globes’ Norman Bailey admits that, while the “new government will have its hands full with immediate problems, …fundamental reforms are also urgent…. When (and if) the new government is sworn in, it will have its agenda more than full: Clean up the remnants of Covid-19; [p]ass a budget, [p]ass a law that, if a prime minister is indicted, he or she must step down. And once the immediate challenges are met, turn to the long-term reforms required to halt and reverse the galloping deterioration of Israeli society…. Immediate challenges must have priority, but fundamental reforms are absolutely essential to ensure a future of prosperity, liberty, democracy and justice for all.”

Yet, it seems that any discussion about the governing priorities of the coalition may ultimately be swept aside if Bennett, Lapid, and others find it impossible to secure enough support in the Knesset.  This is a very real prospect, since the vote of confidence was rescheduled yet again, leading Haaretz News’ Anshel Pfeffer to wonder whether “Naftali Bennett and some of his colleagues [are] getting cold feet ahead of Sunday’s vote of confidence in their potential new government – or is it all the culmination of a cunning plan to finally oust Benjamin Netanyahu?… The date for the confidence vote that will allow the Bennett-Lapid coalition to swear in their new government has finally been set for Sunday. That’s 11 days after Yair Lapid notified both President Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin that the new government was ready and waiting with a confirmed majority. It’s a week too much.”

Meanwhile, according to i24news reports, Netanyahu has promised a scorched-earth campaign to undermine the new coalition before it even gets out of the gate, using incendiary language reminiscent of former US president Donald Trump, declaring “that he will act swiftly to bring down the ‘change coalition’ led by Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, which is widely expected to be voted into government within days, ending Netanyahu’s remarkable 12-year reign as the head of Israeli government…. Addressing the growing number of threats against Yamina and other coalition lawmakers, Netanyahu said that ‘we condemn all forms of incitement from any side, even when others remain mum while the incitement against us runs rampant’…. ‘We need to understand what is happening here. We are witnessing the biggest election fraud in the history of the country, and perhaps in the history of democracy. People rightly feel cheated’.”

Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov notes that Mr. Netanyahu’s confidence in his ability to disrupt the coalition’s work in the coming days may also explain why “his staff is still not preparing for the likely transition to Yamina leader Naftali Bennett for the premiership…. However, when asked about the transition process, a source in the Prime Minister’s Office referred to Netanyahu’s remarks in Sunday’s Likud faction meeting. The implication was that Netanyahu will fight to the very end, and the office is not yet getting ready to prepare their replacements…. Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who is expected to be the next finance minister, said last week that he expects what “everyone saw happen in the Capitol in Washington to happen” in Jerusalem.

The prime minister is not alone in his efforts to delegitimize the new governing coalition, with many of his supporters expressing anger at its leaders. Writing for Israel Hayom, Amnon Lord has accused the Bennett-Lapid bloc of putting together  “a coalition bent on election rigging…. By proposing a bill that would ban Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from running in future elections, the so-called “pro-change coalition” has proved that it is an election-rigging bloc…. Netanyahu is not a threat to the emerging coalition. He is the winner of the latest elections. Gideon Sa’ar, Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman, and Lapid stole the elections. Each one misled their voters, some by promising not to sit with Lapid because they knew the nation dislikes him. But in a democracy, you cannot simply get rid of someone through legislation. One can already hear the fabric of Israeli society beginning to fray. The public will not agree to this, and it will revolt.”

One politician, in particular, has found himself in the eye of the political storm. The anger of many from the Likud bloc and others on the right has been directed at Yamina’s Naftali Bennett whom Tsvi Sadan accuses, in an Israel Today op-ed, of betrayal and of lacking legitimacy: “This anomaly, where a leader of a small party can become a prime minister, is possible because the Israeli political system allows it. It allows politicians with unmitigated ambition to use the political gridlock to their own advantage. Legal as it is, it doesn’t change the fact that it is undemocratic to allow a small party leader to lead the country…. This constitutes one Bennett crisis, wherein an unpopular leader will lead the majority that didn’t vote for him and don’t like him. The second Bennett crisis is Bennett himself, who promised his voters that he’d never allow Lapid to become prime minister. By opting for a left-leaning coalition, Bennett has bitterly disappointed at least half of those who voted for him, not to mention right-wingers who didn’t vote for him.”

Even stronger language has come from leaders of United Torah Judaism and the Shas party, whose behavior Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea believes is a reflection of the fear of finding themselves “cut off from the government [largesse]…. United Torah Judaism leaders Moshe Gafni and Yaakov Litzman held a dramatic press conference on Tuesday. Joining them was the head of the Shas party, Aryeh Deri, who declared with tear-filled eyes that the end of Israel as a Jewish state is nigh…. Whatever could cause these seasoned politicians to come down with such an acute anxiety attack? The answer is politics…. The three most prominent Haredi politicians gathered to condemn the formation of the “government of change” that will next week unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after 12 years. The Haredi parties will not be part of it. The statements and accusations they directed at Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett were especially harsh, even by Haredi standards.”

  • 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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