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Israel poised to install most ideologically diverse government ever

Jun 3, 2021 | Ahron Shapiro

Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett and Mansour Abbas agree on terms for adding the Muslim-Arab Ra'am party to the coalition.
Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett and Mansour Abbas agree on terms for adding the Muslim-Arab Ra'am party to the coalition.

Israel’s new unity government agreement which was signed late on June 2 by leaders of eight parties won’t take effect until the Knesset votes on it, giving Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu one last fleeting window of time to try to find an MK willing to defect and vote against it.

On the morning of June 3, signatures were presented to replace the Likud’s Yariv Levin as Knesset Speaker, likely with Yesh Atid’s Mickey Levy, removing one potential avenue for stalling the vote. While there was some confusion over whether some of the signatures were valid, the Joint List, which does not support the new government, said on Thursday it would sign on to remove Levin regardless.

It paves the way for a new government as early as Monday, which would see Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett installed as prime minister in rotation with Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid as foreign minister, with the pair swapping roles on August 27, 2023.

Other major ministries would be distributed as follows: Interior – Ayelet Shaked (Yamina); Finance – Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu); Defence: Benny Gantz (Blue and White); Justice: Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope); Transportation – Merav Michaeli (Labor) and Health – Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz).

A more comprehensive, though still incomplete, look at the allocation of ministerial portfolios can be found here.

If ratified, the Lapid-Bennett coalition will be the most politically diverse government in Israel’s history, spanning a spectrum from Bennett’s Yamina and Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu which are ideologically to the right of Netanyahu’s Likud, to Sa’ar’s Likud breakaway party New Hope, to Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid, Michaeli’s centre-left Labor, and Horowitz’s left-wing Meretz party. Finally, Mansour Abbas’ Islamist-Arab Ra’am party created history as the first Arab party to join a government in decades, and made the Lapid-Bennett coalition the first Israeli government to require the support of an Arab party in order to be formed.

A deeper analysis of the shape of the new government and a closer look at Lapid, the leader of the largest faction in the prospective government and the engineer of the coalition, will come later, but for now all eyes are on Bennett, who stands to be sworn in as prime minister within days.

For Bennett, whose party failed to even cross the electoral threshold in the election for the 21st Knesset in April 2019, the agreement represents a reversal of fortune unprecedented in Israeli politics.

Bennett’s background has suddenly become a matter of great interest around the world. The JTA has published a biographical piece, though the article lazily linked to an eight-year-old claim made initially by Yediot Ahronot that Bennett had said in a closed-door government meeting, in a conversation about how the IDF should respond to terrorists, that “I have killed a lot of Arabs in my life, and there is no problem with that.” Yet the JTA failed to report that Bennett had also denied saying it.

As Bennett posted on Facebook on August 9, 2013:

[Regarding the quote that has been attributed to me that] “I have killed a lot of Arabs in my life, and there is no problem with that” and also “if terrorists are caught, you should just kill them”.
For the sake of removing doubt: the things have not been said.
**
At the government meeting, I suggested that we stop endangering our soldiers and go out of our way to mortally wound terrorists, as afterwards, the state will release them anyway.
A terrorist who endangers the life of our soldier in his action should be neutralised.
**
The country is allowed to think differently.
I’ll live with it…

In 2013, following Bennett’s debut as the rising star leader of the Jewish Home party, which emerged as Israel’s fourth-largest party in the election for the 19th Knesset, the left-wing Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretzpublished an exhaustive six-part series of background articles about him, most of which was a straight report, despite the fact that Bennett’s ideological world view is at odds with that left-leaning paper’s opinionated writers and editorial direction.

In any case, the concern that Netanyahu could find a defector to sabotage the formation of a unity government is not unfounded. Indeed, something like this happened once before in Israeli politics, in what became known as the “stinking manoeuvre” of 1990.

In that episode, Shimon Peres brought down a unity government with the Likud on the basis of false assurances that he could replace it with a standalone Labor government under his own leadership. The result was a Likud-led right-wing government that held on for another two years.

Photo credit: Ra’am party’s Facebook page

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