Netanyahu’s Shadow Is Keeping the Coalition Together
Israel’s governing coalition has reached the significant milestone of 100 days in power. The fact that it has remained intact is very much thanks to the shadow cast by Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister, and now leader of the opposition, whose presence acts as the number one stabilizing force keeping the coalition together.
The specter of Netanyahu’s potential return was also apparent during Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly, when Israelis watching the speech had one key question in mind: How did it compare to Netanyahu’s speeches in the same forum?
It is customary to give a new government a 100-day honeymoon period, and with a largely friendly media in place, many feel that criticism of the government has been gentle. This phenomenon has had two important side effects. The first is that decisions on how to manage the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic have been less than optimal. The second is that government decisions that would otherwise have attracted firestorms of controversy from within the coalition have seen the factions quietly work together behind the scenes instead. This “radio silence” can mostly be attributed to the fear of a Netanyahu comeback.
Another factor behind this cooperative spirit is the fact that several ministers and deputy ministers — politicians who have never had portfolios in the past — are now realizing their dreams. Meanwhile, the coalition’s factions continue to either ignore or disregard multiple election promises they made throughout the four recent election campaigns. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett promised not to sit with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, or with the United Arab List party — both key members of the current coalition. For Lapid, disappearing “behind the scenes” into the work of the Foreign Ministry has been a convenient maneuver, as the country grapples with coronavirus and other challenges
This government has also not been shy about activating the Norwegian Law, which allows MKs to resign, become ministers, and automatically enlarge the government by bringing the next MKs on the party list into the coalition in their place. Yet criticism of all this has been muted, despite numerous unusual situations, such as the appointment of Yisrael Beitenu’s Eli Avidar as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office — a role that no one seems to know much about.
Meanwhile, right-wing coalition members are embarrassed by the government’s agenda, but are keeping quiet about it. The long called for demolition of the Khan al-Ahmar Beduin settlement — between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea — is off the agenda, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz is trying to improve relations with the Palestinian Authority. The left-wingers in the government are also unhappy about the government’s approval of outposts in Judea and Samaria and settlement construction, but they too have learned to censor themselves.
But the government deserves credit for delivering on one of its core promises: Quiet for the Israeli people. Should the government succeed in passing the bi-annual state budget, this would likely guarantee stability for two years. Prior to the second and third budget votes, we are likely to witness ultimatums, as various coalition elements try to pull budgetary resources in their direction. But in all likelihood, the arguments will be resolved at the last minute through compromise.
When Netanyahu was on an extended holiday in Hawaii, one of the jokes circulating among government officials expressed the hope that he’d fall in love with the place and stay there. But Netanyahu is back, and his Likud Party is preparing to continue disrupting Knesset discussions with protests. Still, that won’t be enough to bring down this coalition. Only two things can do that: Failure to pass the budget, or Netanyahu leaving politics.
It’s the boycott of Netanyahu that led the current government into power, and so long as Netanyahu remains leader of the opposition, the fear that he may return will keep the coalition together.
Danielle Roth-Avneri is a publishing Expert at The MirYam Institute. Danielle is a journalist and reporter on political matters, as well as an editor for the Israel Hayom/Israel Today newspaper, the most widely circulated publication in Israel.
The MirYam Institute is the leading international forum for Israel focused discussion, dialogue, and debate, focused on campus presentations, engagement with international legislators, and gold-standard trips to the State of Israel. Follow their work at www.MirYamInstitute.org.