The Netanyahu family has a habit of moving their belongings away from the Prime Minister’s official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. In 2016, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a stunned group of settlers evicted from their homes in the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona: “I understand what it means to lose a home. After the 1999 election, without any warning, my family and I were simply kicked out of the Balfour Street home. Just like that, with all our stuff, we were just thrown out on the street. We had to go to the Sheraton Plaza Hotel, it was terrible.
The Likud Party won 19 Knesset seats in the 1999 election, seven fewer than the Labor Party led by Ehud Barak. Barak’s government, like the one sworn in on June 13, was a coalition of diverse parties, with the Meretz on the left, the Hamerkaz party in the center, and the ultra-Orthodox parties on the right. The partnership lasted less than two years.
What can this short-lived government teach us about the future of the new Israeli government led by Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid? What are the prospects for their diverse coalition comprising parties of the conservative Jewish right, whose leaders are engaged in the settlement enterprise, and lawmakers of the Meretz party who boycott products made in the settlements? Can fierce women’s rights activist Merav Michaeli, president of the Labor Party, come to terms with Conservative Home Secretary Ayelet Shaked who has pledged to deport asylum seekers and their families?
The cards that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds are much worse than those that Barak received in 1999. First of all, there has never been an Israeli Prime Minister, nor a leader of any democracy, including the party no. ‘won only 6% of the vote (translated into seven seats in the 120-member Knesset, one of whom is opposed to the new government). Bennett is a default option, the best of the three highly flawed alternatives, the other two being Benjamin Netanyahu’s stay in power after 12 years in power, or a fifth round of elections largely supposed to perpetuate the political deadlock. The new government, both in its composition and in its orientations, is therefore hardly the ideal choice of its left or right components.
Bennett, along with Yisrael Beitenu party leader Avigdor Lieberman and New Hope party chairman Gideon Saar, would have felt more comfortable in the company of their former Likud colleagues than sitting alongside representatives from Labor, Meretz and of the Palestinian Ra’am List) parties. The common denominator of the new government is its loathing for Netanyahu’s personality and his corruption indictment.
The center-right partners of the new government are in tune with its ideology and with its foreign and defense policy. Presumably, if Netanyahu cedes his leadership of Likud, or if his party colleagues find the courage to overthrow him, many in the new government will negotiate a partnership with Likud.
However, Netanyahu declared war on his successor even before he started packing and joining the opposition benches. Netanyahu of 2021 is not the same defeated young prime minister 22 years ago who took time off from politics. This time, he enjoys the support of legions of fiery supporters and an army of violent robots.
In the last days of government, with the ground scorching beneath their feet, ultra-Orthodox party leaders and their rabbis joined in the chorus of incitement against Bennett. The language they adopted and their hellish threats recall the atmosphere that reigned in the months leading up to the November 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
One of the new government’s first challenges will be to put out those flames, restore confidence in the country’s justice system, police and media, and try to instill respect for pluralism.
The architects of the bizarre Bennett-Lapid coalition knew full well that the opposition would identify cracks in its building and plant explosives to blow it up. These explosives include legislation on very sensitive issues, such as the relationship between religion and the state, the annexation of the Palestinian territories, LGBTQ rights and the recognition of progressive currents of Judaism challenging the monopoly of the ultra-establishment. orthodox.
To defuse these ticking time bombs, the coalition agreement perpetuates the status quo on each of these issues. However, Netanyahu has a new kind of TNT at his disposal in the form of arch-nationalist Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir and his anti-Arab coterie. Ben-Gvir was elected to the Knesset this year with Netanyahu’s backing and is exploiting his parliamentary immunity to violate the status quo in the most volatile places – the Muslim holy sites of Jerusalem. Netanyahu can count on Hamas and Islamic Jihad to respond to Ben-Gvir’s provocations.
And what would Bennett do if rockets from Gaza were fired at Jerusalem in response to a visit by Jewish Knesset members to the grounds of Al-Aqsa Mosque / Temple Mount, sacred to both Jews and Muslims? Would the two Arab members of the new government, Islamist President Ra’am Mansour Abbas and Minister of Regional Cooperation Issawi Frej of Meretz vote in favor of retaliation against Gaza and the killing of Palestinian civilians? And would Lieberman and Saar vote for restraint if Israelis were killed in a Hamas attack?
And would the fiercely pro-colony Bennett abide by a court order to demolish the 40 houses in the illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar? How would he maneuver between pressure from the US administration to continue diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinians on the two-state solution, his center-left partners who support the creation of a Palestinian state, and his own strong statements against it? this, not to mention the resentment of its partners in the right-wing parties?
Negotiations on a new nuclear deal with Iran are yet another obstacle for the new government, which will force it to adopt an extremely difficult decision. If he adheres to Netanyahu’s militant policies opposing the deal, Bennett will put himself on a collision course with the Biden administration which will be in power throughout his two-year tenure. On the other hand, if the government agrees to follow the policies of the Biden administration, Netanyahu will likely launch a public campaign accusing the new government of “abandoning the Jewish people to a second Holocaust.”
Throughout his long reign, Netanyahu has been seen as a tightrope walker wizard without a safety net. Bennett saw his performance up close when he was his chief of staff when he was Leader of the Opposition between 2006 and 2008. To survive in power long enough to start repairing some of the damage Netanyahu has inflicted on Israeli society , Bennett will have to surpass his former master.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.