War, political intrigue and a tectonic shift in the country’s leadership—in the span of just a few weeks, Israel has seen it all.
Following a violent escalation last month in its conflict with the Palestinian group Hamas, the country also bore witness to the downfall of the controversial longtime prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Into the void steps a fragile coalition of eight wildly divergent political forces that span the ideological gamut.
“Even for Israel—and Israel is usually a very high-paced and explosive news cycle—this has been extraordinary,” said former ICWA fellow Neri Zilber (Israel, 2011-2013), now a Tel Aviv-based correspondent and analyst.
All eyes are now on the new government, sworn in June 13 and led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, as it navigates an obstacle-ridden path through a post-Bibi era.
Few are certain of its success. Many more expect Netanyahu to wield his considerable influence in a bid to derail its work and return to power.
Yet despite the widespread media attention paid to America’s top ally in the Middle East, Zilber points to lesser-discussed factors to watch that could dictate how Israel’s new political chapter pans out.
This government could stick around longer than many expect, he says, despite Bibi’s attempts to mobilize his right-wing base against it. “It’s a lot more difficult than people think to topple an Israeli government once it’s already been seated,” said Zilber, who is also an adjunct fellow of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Such a move requires a so-called constructive majority, or an alternative proposed government, he adds. That would be a tall order considering the tenuous nature of the coalitions Netanyahu has managed to cobble together in the past.
Also potentially counterintuitive: The very fragility that defines the current coalition—comprised of forces ranging from secular leftists to Arab Islamists—could actually be the source of its success.
After years of political turmoil and deep polarization, the Israeli public is hungry for the stability the new leaders have promised, Zilber says. That’s defined not only by keeping Bibi out but also proving that constructive policymaking is still possible.
“They all understand that they need to make it work,” he said.
How the new government treats the Palestinian issue, particularly Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, is another matter. Of the myriad challenges facing the government, Zilber says this “has the most potential to tear it apart.”
“But I think they’ve all taken that into consideration,” he added.
Still, with Hamas having already tested the new government by sending incendiary bombs into Israel this week—prompting a targeted Israeli air raid on Gaza—policymakers may have less time than they’d like to craft a strategy.
Meanwhile, the Israeli public will be impatiently watching.
Photo: The 36th government of Israel at Beit HaNassi, headed by the President Reuven Rivlin, June 14, 2021. (Haim Tzach/GPO, Wikimedia Commons)