Who is the new Israeli Prime Minister?

After twelve years in the office of Prime Minister, it seems that Netanyahu will be leaving it. The so-called anti-Netanyahu bloc is a hodgepodge of parties spanning from the right to the left, and for the first time including an Arab party (The Israeli Islamist Party RA'AM) as part of the coalition. What prompted such unlikely group to agree in forming a coalition and what can we expect of Israeli policies moving forward?

The answer to the first question is deceptively simple. The partners in he new coalition are united not in a common vision for the State, not in a common vision for Security or for Foreign Relations; their visions are widely apart. What unites them is the common will to oust Netanyahu. It does not bode well for the confidence in a coherent policy nor in the long term stability of the coalition. With a collective support of sixty one Knesset Members, the new government has a razor-thin majority, giving each of the coalition partners the power to do political blackmail. It also gives Netanyahu the ability to destabilize the government by just convincing a couple of right-wing legislators to defect to his side to precipitate a non confidence motion in the Knesset.

Under the terms of the Coalition Agreement Naftali Bennett will take the first turn as Prime Minister for a little over two years, and the agreement calls for a rotation with Yair Lapid after that. So who is Naftali Bennett?. Bennett was a close ally of Netanyahu until they had  a fallout around 2008. The fall out was about Bennett feeling that Netanyahu was being too flexible with Hamas, and that a stronger hand was necessary. After the fallout, Bennett became the Director of the Yesha (Yehuda, Shomron and Aza - Judea, Samaria and Gaza) Council, the main political body representing the interests of the Settlers' Movement. He has clearly expressed his opposition to any form of Palestinian Statehood and championed the Settlers' cause. Having said all this, he announced that the focus of his policy as Prime Minister at this point will be on the recovery from the Pandemic - NOT negotiating with the Palestinians. We can therefore expect a policy looking inwards rather than outwards. This will probably encourage the hardliners on the Palestinian side to create a climate of violence to call attention to their cause.

And what when Lapid takes over? The issue of whether Lapid will ever take over is a very long shot. By becoming Prime Minister, Bennett will be in a position to confront Netanyahu, mired in legal problems, for the leadership of the right. If he succeeds, he may choose to destabilize the coalition and merge his Yamina Party back into Likkud under his leadership, thus precipitating a coalition crisis leading to new elections. In such elections, a revitalized Likkud could retain power and completely marginalize the Center and Left parties with whose support Bennett is now accessing power. Lapid may also merge back his party into Likkud in exchange for some Ministerial portfolio.

This whole scenario is, of course, my evaluation of the situation. I'm sure there are those who will disagree. My evaluation is based on the current political landscape in Israel - a landscape which has been known to change overnight quite often. For now, the only clear reality is that Yair Lapid will present the new government to the Knesset before June 14 (the deadline). If the Knesset approves the government, then the scenario I described could come to pass (or not).

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