Conservative Bennett offers centrist Lapid decisive support in a coalition pact
The Israeli opposition is preparing to close a pact to form a broad coalition government with the aim of ousting the current acting prime minister, the right-wing Benjamin Netanyahu , 71, who has held office since 2009. opposition Naftali Bennett, a conservative nationalist, announced in Parliament on Sunday that he will bring his decisive support to “a Cabinet of national unity” with the centrist Yair Lapid. Before they will have to close a pact with seven parties, from the right to the pacifist left, in addition to having the external support of two Arab political forces in the Chamber.
Bennett offered a speech of appeal to the unit and justified his decision in the difficulty of conforming an Executive only with the parties of the right. “The only options are a unity government or new elections,” he warned.
Netanyahu replied a few minutes later in a television appearance calling a left-wing government of Lapid and Bennett a “danger to national security”. “What is going to happen in Iran or in Gaza? What kind of military deterrence is this going to entail? ”, He alleged. “It’s the scam of the century,” claimed the acting prime minister as he called Yamina’s leader a weather vane and inconsistent . He also considered it a “betrayal” to voters on the right that Bennett added his seven seats to a center-left coalition.
If the new unity government is finally forged, in a decision to be made before midnight on Wednesday and succeeds in ending the era of Netanyahu at the helm of Israel , the Cabinet will have to deal with the weakness that comes with its own diversity.
The presence of so far openly antagonistic forces with antithetical ideologies will force the new Executive to develop a pragmatic and consensus program, focused on the economic recovery after the pandemic and on the consolidation of the ceasefire with which the largest escalation of war in the Gaza Strip over the past seven years.
Political analysts in the Hebrew press do not predict long duration. The most sensitive issues, such as the peace negotiations with the Palestinians or the controversial impositions of the Jewish religious authorities that weigh on secular civil society, will have to be forcibly put on the back burner.
Netanyahu maneuvered throughout the day to try to regain the support of Yamina’s nationalists, led by former Minister Bennett, and of Nueva Esperanza, a right-wing party led by former Minister Gideon Saar. He offered both of them to chair in turn a Cabinet of the united right, with three visible heads. They both flatly rejected the last-minute offer.
Saar, who broke with the discipline of the Prime Minister’s party a year ago, did so bluntly: “Our position has not changed, we are going to end Netanyahu’s mandates.” Bennett summoned his parliamentary group before confirming with the support of all his deputies that he was heading “towards a Government of change”, as the alternative coalition of almost all the opposition is called in Israel, as the only possibility against the call for the fifth general elections. That is the argument that Bennett has used to refuse to agree with his former mentor and ally Netanyahu.
Taking on the challenge of forming a government in Israel, after Netanyhau failed in a first attempt, Lapid, who was given the mandate on May 4, gave preference to the prime minister’s position to Bennett, whom he doubles as number of seats in the Knesset (Parliament). In order to end more than two years of political blockade in which four legislative elections have taken place, the centrist leader sacrificed himself.
Lapid is a secular radical who advocates the two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. Yet Bennett is a religious right-winger, a supporter of Israel’s annexation of much of the West Bank, and has traditionally been attached to the Netanyahu bloc, alongside the ultra-Orthodox and the far right.
To convince him to join a coalition with the left and backed by the Arab parties, the centrist leader had to give him the leadership of the government in the first place, while he reserved the foreign affairs portfolio. In 2023, in the middle of the legislature, both would have to rotate their positions, if a deal is finally closed.
After six years of strategy of uncompromising opposition to Netanyahu, Lapid now offers a profile of consensus and restraint. He left the Executive of the Likud leader – in which he served as finance minister between 2013 and 2015 – and challenged him five times at the polls.
The leader of the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party has behind him his own party, three conservative splinter formations of the Likud (including Bennett’s), the Labor Party, Meretz (the pacifist left) and the deputies of the Joint List and Maan ( Arab coalitions representing the main Israeli minority, with 20% of the population).
Before Wednesday, when the deadline for him to form a government expires, he will have to confirm to the President of the State of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, that he is standing for the inauguration with a chance of success. Otherwise, the timer will start to run for the call for new elections in the fall.
Lapid remained silent, waiting for the agreement that he has negotiated to finally bear fruit. When he was commissioned to try to seal a coalition pact, he was much more explicit: “We need a government that reflects that we do not hate each other. After two years of political paralysis, Israeli society is suffering. A unity government is not a compromise or a last resort; it is an objective that we need ”.
“The people want this Government of change”
The spirit of unity in the coalition project between such diverse political forces, which also needs the external support of two Arab parties, gives an idea of the message crossed between two deputies located on the antipodes of Israeli politics.
The parliamentarian and former leader of Meretz Tamar Zandberg, representative of the pacifist left, addressed the former minister and deputy of the Yamina (radical nationalist) party Ayelet Shaked saying these words: “From my vision from the left I also see that the people of Israel – from the center, from the right and from the left – this Government of change wants.
The first is called to exercise the portfolio of Environment and the second to be the head of the Interior, if the final coalition agreement is reached, in the same Cabinet. Zandberg can be equated with a member of the leftist Spanish United Podemos party, and Shaked could well fit into the ranks of the far-right Vox party. The two policies believe, however, that Israel now needs to end Benjamin Netanyahu’s long era in power.
“The atmosphere of fear that Netanyahu has generated around him” is behind this change in attitude in the Israeli political class, the prestigious analyst Nahum Barnea argued in his column in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper . “Since it came to power for the first time, 25 years ago, Israel has become a semi-monarchical regime,” reasons Barnea. “It is time to restore things to their previous state and to return to being a normal republic.”