Friends keep asking: How do you feel? What do you think?
Me: I feel relief. I’ve got some hope. I’m sober and realistic.
That Bibi Netanyahu is no longer Prime Minister. Despite what many in liberal quarters think, he did some good things. He kept Israel relatively safe. He resisted pressure and temptation when Israel could have acted militarily more aggressively and, perhaps, recklessly. He made diplomatic inroads around the world. He solidified Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He kept Israel economically healthy and vibrant. He vanquished a deathly virus.
He even was the first right-wing Prime Minister to say, albeit with not unreasonable caveats, that Israel would accept a two-state solution. Yes, he later backed away from that for political reasons. But, if the Palestinians had grabbed the opening and worked to build a state, Netanyahu may have had no opportunity or reason to back away from his statement.
Despite that record, Netanyahu could not put together a 61 member coalition over the course of four elections in two years. Why?
Because he became poison. He became destructive. He alienated allies who he felt might compete for leadership of Likud. He broke promises left and right. He and his family began to think of themselves as entitled to the position. One post-election symptom of that feeling of entitlement: they apparently don’t have plans to immediately vacate the Prime Minister’s residence.
Politicians who largely agree with his policies refused to join a coalition with him because he either lied to them, excluded them, or plotted against them. They opted for the “change” coalition despite serious ideological differences with several of its members.
Indicted for serious crimes from trading government policy for favorable press treatment to just feeling entitled to receive expensive wine and cigars, he attacked law enforcement and the judiciary, including his own appointees. He attacked the institutions of a democratic and free society. At the very end he wasn’t even original, throwing about completely bogus charges of election fraud and the deep state.
He made alliances with or appointed unqualified lackeys to important positions, several of whom have been indicted or are under investigation for various crimes. He held up budgets so as to invalidate an agreement to transfer the prime ministership to a colleague as promised. In the interest of staying in power, he legitimized racist individuals and parties long persona non grata in Israel’s politics and society.
The Knesset session during which the new government was elected illustrates the level of conduct to which Netanyahu’s supporters and associates stooped. Rather than respectfully listen to the speech by the soon-to-be elected Naftali Bennett, they deliberately disrupted the proceedings, interrupting repeatedly with demeaning and disturbing charges.
They acted like thugs, and several were thrown out of the chamber. Netanyahu could have put a halt to this disgraceful embarrassment with one wave of his arm, but he did not.
Netanyahu’s speech at that same Knesset session was vitriolic and demagogic. The way he went out gives proof to the fact that it was past time he went out, and that he should be prevented from coming back in.
A diverse group of people with very divergent ideologies and constituencies put their differences aside in order to form a new government. Yes, it was for the purpose of ridding the country of one Prime Minister. Yes, many harbor personal political ambitions. Yes, it is a fragile coalition that may not last, and it got voted in by a bare 60-59 margin. But, the bottom line is that they managed to put ideologies, egos, and ambitions aside for the benefit of the nation.
Of the bloated membership of 27 ministers, there are nine women, including three in the crucially important security cabinet. Six of the members are immigrants, and one of those is a woman born in Ethiopia. Six are religiously observant, kippah-wearing Jews including, for the first time, the Prime Minister. There is one Arab Muslim, one Druze, and one gay man. Just over half are 50 or younger.
Women will head the ministries of Transportation, Education, Interior, Energy, Economy, Science, Technology and Space, Social Equality, Environmental Protection, and Aliyah & Integration. More importantly, many of the ministers are serious people, and many have years of experience and/or education in the areas for which they are now responsible.
The man who put it together: Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party leader Yair Lapid. A former journalist originally considered by many to be a pretty-faced lightweight, he has proven to be patient, thoughtful, deliberate, and dedicated.
His party received more than twice as many seats as the new Prime Minister, Yamina Party (Right Party) leader Naftali Bennett, but in a demonstration of patience and politics unique anywhere in the public sphere these days, he has allowed Bennett to become Prime Minister. According to the coalition agreement, Lapid is to rotate into the position in two years, an eternity in Israeli politics.
It takes chutzpah for Bennett, having won just seven mandates, to think he should be Prime Minister. (By the time the deal was done, he was down to six because one of the party members on the slate refused to join the coalition, citing Yemina’s pledge not to join a coalition with an anti-Zionist Party [Raam] or one that would see Lapid as Prime Minister.) But, by teasing both sides during the negotiation period, he pulled it off. You have to give him credit for playing a fairly weak hand very well.
It is a testament to Lapid’s skills and to just what a motivating force opposition to Netanyahu is that several parties on the right joined a coalition with the Raam Party, an Islamist Party whose platform effectively calls for the elimination of Israel as a Jewish nation.
And it says something about Monsour Abbas (not to be confused with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) and his desire to deliver tangible benefits to Israel’s Arab citizens that he abandoned the long-held position that Arab parties would not join Israeli governments dedicated to Zionism.
Some in the media have sloppily stated that this is the first time Israeli Arabs have been involved in Israeli governments. Not true. Arab citizens have often served as Knesset members representing mainstream Israeli parties, including Likud. Eight Arab citizens are serving in the new coalition, and only four of them are from the Raam Party.
Arab parties have very occasionally provided crucial support to mainstream parties without formally joining the coalition, as when an Arab Party supported Rabin’s government “from the outside” so that it would not fall during the Oslo process.
The historic breakthrough in the current situation is that a party formally joined a government. And it is not an exclusively left/center government. Engineered by a centrist and led by a right-winger, it includes parties across the spectrum, including ones who swore they would never serve with anti-Zionist parties that some allege support terrorism.
And just to put the unpredictable icing on the unimaginable cake, the Arab party who took this giant step is one with a strong Islamist ideology. Many thought the odds of it happening at all were slight. After the war with Gaza and the violence in many of Israel’s mixed Arab-Jewish communities, most lowered the chances to nil. Should the coalition dissolve today, it will be remembered for this unprecedented, historic breakthrough.
A juicy moment that political junkies savor: Along with just about anything else he could think up, Netanyahu slammed the new coalition for joining with Abbas’ Islamist party even though Netanyahu was the first to court Abbas and float the idea of Raam joining in a coalition. Among the din of the slurs and curses the defeated former government members threw at Bennett during his speech, one could hear Bennett giving Netanyahu “credit” for opening the door to this new era in Israeli politics. Well played, indeed.
Will it last? For how long? One would not be unrealistic to think that the day Netanyahu no longer leads the opposition and, therefore, no longer is positioned to resume being Prime Minister, the coalition will self-destruct. The thinking is that the right-wing parties will feel free to abandon the coalition and join back up with their natural partners in Likud, other right-wing parties, and the religious parties.
But there is another possible scenario or two. Bennett and his colleagues recognize that they may not be forgiven for having been “traitors” to the right, and they may very well be happy with sticking with this government to its end. Likud refugee and New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar and his colleagues may have similar feelings.
Lapid, who under the new coalition agreement will become Prime Minister in 2023, has the ultimate prize as an incentive to work to keep things going. And then there are all of the other Cabinet members and Knesset members who will have become comfortable with the positions they hold.
And, despite all of the condemnations and curses directed at the new government by the leaders of the religious parties, there is always the possibility that, fearing the loss of some of the bountiful largesse they and their institutions receive from the government, one or both of them somehow see their way to joining up with the coalition some of them have said will bring the wrath of the Lord down upon the nation. Stranger things have happened in Israeli politics.
After the disgraceful behavior directed at Bennett during the Knesset debate preceding the vote for the new Knesset, Lapid was to give a speech. Instead, he walked up to the podium and said this:
The inspiring speech Lapid did not give is worth reading: ttps://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1404089761854332931.html