Israel’s government now needs to redefine itself: analysis

If someone had fallen asleep, like Rip Van Winkle, in October 2018 and woke up on Saturday night, they would have rubbed their eyes in disbelief at the sight of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and the Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman standing together at a press conference exchanging compliments.

Especially the Bennett-Liberman piece. Because when this imaginary Rip Van Winkle-like figure fell asleep three years ago, Bennett, then the country’s education minister, and Liberman, who was the defense minister at the time, were exchanging vicious criticisms of Israel’s policies in Loop.

Bennett accused Liberman of being weak in Gaza, and Liberman, who never accepts an insult lying down, responded by calling Bennett “messianic and populist.”

“Bennett doesn’t care, neither education nor safety. As far as I’m concerned, the man has been eliminated; as of tomorrow it just doesn’t exist, ”Liberman said in a radio interview at the time.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman at a joint press conference, November 6, 2021 (Credit: HAIM ZACH / GPO)

But on Saturday night, Liberman joined the man he “eliminated” three years ago for a victory lap after the government managed to pass a budget.

This time Bennett praised Liberman, along with Lapid, for doing an “outstanding job,” and Liberman said that he, who has been a minister in many governments, never remembers one who has hummed more harmoniously.

That astonishing Bennett-Liberman approach epitomizes what this administration has been able to do in its first nearly five months in office: take people who are ideologically opposed, or don’t personally like each other, or both, and get them to work. together.

The impetus to get these disparate parties to form a government was a burning desire to remove Benjamin Netanyahu from the Prime Minister’s Office and end the political deadlock that led the country to four inconclusive elections and government paralysis.

Once that goal was met and a government was established, albeit a narrow one that spawned parties from the hard left to the hard right, with an Islamist one included to bring the coalition to the magic number of 61, the next goal was to get an approved budget. . Not only or even primarily because the country desperately needed a budget, the last one passed in 2018, but because if the government didn’t pass a budget by November 14, it would automatically have dropped, leading to new elections.

As a result, the differences that arose between the parties were managed and not allowed to escalate into major crises. Every now and then someone from the coalition would shake the boat, but he was careful not to capsize it.

While stopping settlement construction could be a primary goal for Meretz, and expanding settlements could be an equally important goal for New Hope; Although the two states have long been a wake-up call for Labor, while Bennett’s Yamina Party doesn’t even want to talk about the idea; Ensuring that the government did not fall was even more important than all that.

Coalition Members in the Knesset, November 3, 2021 (Credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)Coalition Members in the Knesset, November 3, 2021 (Credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

But now what

The stability of the government has been assured for the immediate future, so what happens next? Will the eight parties that make up the coalition still willing to ignore the big issues that divide them and focus on the smaller, though much more numerous, on which they can agree?

Hands tied due to massive ideological differences over how to deal with key issues like the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, Gaza, and the settlements, what does the government want to focus on now? Can you continue to keep your internal contradictions in the background? What will your policy legacy be?

Bennett gave some indication at the Saturday night press conference.

“Our next mission is to use this stability and address challenges and problems that have been neglected for years: housing costs, traffic jams that are out of control, Israel’s infamous cost of living, the powerlessness of people in the face of rampant crime and loss of government in the Negev. Without delay, without despairing beforehand, even if the tasks are great, and even if they take time, we will get started. “

Bennett set his goals – and, for a country that has always put national security and diplomatic affairs at the forefront, what is surprising about his list is that it was completely national.

Why? Because everyone in your coalition, from Meretz on the left to New Hope on the right, from Ra’am to Yamina, can agree that housing costs are too high, that it’s a nightmare to drive to work in the morning. due to clogged roads. , that everything costs too much and that crime is bad. It’s when you go beyond those issues, when you try to address issues like Jerusalem and the Palestinian diplomatic process that things get tough.

Bennett’s Solution: Just don’t deal with those problems.

As was the case when he addressed the UN General Assembly in September, Bennett did not mention the Palestinians in his prepared remarks at the press conference where he set his additional goals. He only mentioned them when asked about the US desire to reopen a consulate in Jerusalem to serve the Palestinians, and spoke unequivocally against such a move.

His message Saturday night was clear: The formula that worked to bring the parties into the coalition in the first place, and allowed them to pass the budget, will be the same one he hopes to employ in the future. If the parties can agree on 70% to 80% of the items on the agenda, focus on those issues and try to ignore the rest.

What remains to be seen, however, is whether it is possible to ignore or avoid dealing with the remaining 20-30%. Especially when forces outside the government – the opposition, the Palestinians, various actors in the international community – may very well work overtime trying to bring those problems front and center.

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