Last Sunday the “Change Government” was finally voted-in with a razor thin 60-59 plenum vote along with one abstention. Before the vote took place, Prime Minister designate (at the time) Naftali Bennett, spoke from the podium to a hail of shouts and name calling, mostly from MK’s of the right wing Religious Zionists party. We asked James J Marlow some questions.
JAMES, the Israeli media highlighted the disgraceful behaviour from some members, you monitored the entire session into the night, what’s your view?
It certainly was a stormy session and one which I have not heard for some time in the Knesset. But heckling is part of a healthy, vibrant, democracy. I recall it happening in the Knesset in the eighties from the left against the right, during the time of Yitzhak Shamir. It happened in the nineties from the right against the left, when the Oslo Accords were signed.
It occurred throughout the noughties when the Likud breakaway party, Kadima, initiated and implemented the disengagement from Gaza. It happened in 2009 when Bibi returned as Prime Minister with the Likud, even though Tzippy Livni won one more seat with Kadima, but she couldn’t fathom together a coalition.
I recall the shouting, heckling and hatred from the left, after Likud won by 6 seats in 2015, against Yitzhak Herzog, when the polls consistently stated, both parties were neck and neck.
We can condemn the heckling and shouts of “liar” and “traitor” against Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and we should. But we also have to be consistent and recall when the left used equally strong language against the right.
In any case, the Likud speaker Yariv Levin, at his last session, gave the usual three warnings to the hecklers and then they were escorted out of the plenum. I counted some 10 MK’s were kicked out.
Let’s also remember that at times, during the Brexit debates within the House of Commons, the heckling and name calling was exceptionally bad. So it’s not fair to say, it just happens in Israel and only from the right to left, or in this case, from the right to the new Left-Centre-Right-Arab alliance. It’s a healthy, vibrate democracy and it happens in democratic parliaments everywhere.
This is a government made up of 8 parties ranging from the Left-Centre-Right and the Arab Ra’am parties. How will a coalition of secular liberals, social democrats, religious nationalists, liberal nationalists and Islamists work? And all with just a one seat majority?
80% of Israelis believe this government will fall very quickly. But if Naftali Bennett can somehow focus his government on paving roads, the environment, getting businesses back to work after Covid with no new taxes, an agreement on passing the budget and issues dealing with education and health, then it has a chance of survival.
In addition, each of the leaders of the eight parties are extremely proud of themselves for finally ousting Netanyahu, after 12 continuous years as Prime Minister. They therefore believe they all have a responsibility to behave themselves and keep Bibi out, who now still sits in the Knesset as leader of the opposition, and who is waiting patiently for just one opportunity to pounce. If another election is held within the next year, the right wing parties of Yamina, New Hope and possibly, Yisrael Beteinu, will likely lose seats.
However, even if the government act as if they are all best friends, and really work hard in their human relations technics, they may have another problem. The Americans could pressure Israel into more concessions with the Palestinian Authority, in a bid to convince Mahmoud Abbas to at least come to the table after 10 years. Or there could be other security concerns from Gaza, Lebanon, Syria or Iran, which may force a break-up of the partnership.
But for now, we are in the honeymoon period.
There are concerns over the Arab Ra’am party having access to sensitive security information, especially as they were so hostile towards Israel in the past. What are your thoughts?
Mansour Abbas and Ra’am will not be in the inner security cabinet. Their focus is receiving support, funding and other forms of assistance for Arab and Bedouin communities across the country.
Will any Likud candidate challenge Netanyahu for the leadership?
Bibi has made it clear for now, he wishes to remain as leader of the opposition and bring down this new government. And despite having 3 indictments against him, the Likud under Netanyahu’s leadership, received 35 seats in April 2019, 32 seats in September 2019, 36 seats in March 2020 and in March 2020, the Likud garnered 30 seats, which was 13 more than its nearest rival. So an opposition party with 30 seats in the Knesset will likely be a strong power base.
However there are around 12 candidates waiting for the opportunity to run for the Likud leadership. According to polls, former Jerusalem mayor, Nir Barkat is leading. But Yisrael Katz, Yuli Eidelstein, Yariv Levin, Gilad Erdan, Danny Dannon, Miri Regev, Yoav Galant, Avi Dicter, Tzippy Hotovely and others fancy their chances. But Netanyahu still tops the list by far.
Any last word on the survival of this government?
The majority of the parliament is made up of votes to the right, but the government doesn’t reflect this reality and this will likely be a major thorn in the side of Prime Minister Bennett and his right wing colleague, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar.
Only 5% of the public voted for the party that its leader became PM. This is unprecedented in Israeli history.
In any case, it will very hard to replace Netanyahu on the world stage, especially as Bennett’s party, Yamina only hold 6 seats. (One of their MK’s voted against the government).
I heard from World Likud Chairman and former Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Dannon, saying when he served in the government as a Likud MK with just one seat majority in the Knesset, it was “mission impossible”. And that was with MK’s having similar ideological views.
With so many different political, religious and philosophical opinions today in the new government, according to Danny, it will likely be “mission impossible”.
But Mr Dannon did say, although it will be hard to speak as loudly as former PM Netanyahu did on Iran in 2015, Naftali Bennett must oppose any new JCPOA agreement with Iran, not matter what the consequences are.