This article was originally published by Stratfor Worldview and is reprinted here with permission.
The ideological differences within Israel’s new unity government will likely lead to its early demise — leaving open the potential of a more strongly right-wing Israeli government to take its place that would risk stoking more unrest in the Palestinian territories and further straining Israel’s relations abroad. On June 2, Israeli opposition parties announced the formation of the country’s second unity government in two years. The new so-called “change government” brings together settlers, nationalists, Islamists, leftists and centrists into an unwieldy coalition led by Naftali Bennett from the right-wing pro-settler Yamina party. The unity government puts an end to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year stint as prime minister, the longest in Israeli history. It also removes a major obstacle to a functioning government: Netanyahu himself, who broke with tradition and split the country’s dominant right-wing parties when he refused to resign following his indictment for corruption in November 2019. But while Netanyahu appears likely to recede from the political spotlight, the unity government’s ideological diversity means that it will struggle with policy implementation. Its right-leaning prime minister is likely to also continue to pursue policies like settlement expansion, which will anger the coalition’s Islamist and left-wing members.
- Under the final deal, Bennett will first head the new government as prime minister before being replaced by Yair Lapid from the centrist Yesh Atid party in 2023.
- The unity government was only formed after months of tense negotiations between Israeli opposition leaders, who struggled to put the necessary deals in place to bring their parties together under an anti-Netanyahu bloc. Rogue members of the Knesset threatened the process as well. And with the vote to form a government still days away, there are rumors that lawmakers might still flip sides.
The new unity government will struggle to pass policies beyond non-controversial subjects like the national budget. Potential confrontation with Hamas and contentious disputes over issues like LGBTQ rights could ultimately collapse the coalition. As prime minister, Bennett is likely to pursue pro-settlement policies both out of genuine support of the settlement project and in a bid to shore up his support among voters skeptical of his alliance with Islamists and the Israeli left. But the Arab Ra’am party, along with the left-wing parties in the coalition, will likely oppose these policies. Bennett also supports a more confrontational approach to Hamas, as do several of his right-wing allies. He was also critical of Netanyahu’s restrained leadership during last month’s flare-up in Gaza. If there is another conflict in Gaza, the unity government is likely to split along ideological lines — with its right-wing members pushing for a major military operation to deter Hamas, while left and Islamists push for more restrained military options. The left-wing Meretz party supports greater LGBTQ rights, a policy unpopular with Ra’am and some of the right-wing parties. Finally, Bennett and the right do not favor policies designed to better integrate Israeli Arabs despite the alliance with the Islamists, policies like new spending in Israeli Arab communities and the legalization of Bedouin outposts. Their opposition to these policies could cause the key Islamists to bolt the coalition, triggering a new election and putting the government back into caretaker mode.
- Israel has not had a national budget since 2019, which has threatened to erode the country’s economic competitiveness by leaving its state spending adrift as the world slowly emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Some aspects of the national budget might prove to be controversial, like spending on Arab communities or subsidies for settlements. But disputes over these issues are less likely to escalate to the point of blocking the budget or collapsing the government.
- Two of the major right-wing parties in the coalition, Yisrael Beiteinu and New Hope, both favored a stronger deterrence against Hamas and court votes from southern Israelis who live under the constant threat of rocket fire.
- The Ra’am Party is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and holds traditional Islamic views on LGBTQ and gender issues. Meretz is a left-wing party that emphasizes social equality and secularism.
The end of the new anti-Netanyahu coalition could see the return of a united and potentially more radical right-wing government that pulls Israel away from its pluralistic democratic traditions and generates more tension with its Western allies. Netanyahu is facing a potential revolt by his own Likud party that could see him exiled from politics. He is also facing a corruption trial that, if convicted, almost certainly spells the end of his political career. This would allow the right-wing to focus on building a post-Netanyahu government that excludes Islamists and the Israeli left, as well as potentially more moderate right-wing parties like Yesh Atid and Blue and White. A government firmly controlled by the right-wing would be more likely to be less restrained in taking military action against Hamas in Gaza, and support more expansive pro-settlement policies and even annexations in the West Bank. Such a government might also rely on the support of far-right parties like those of Religious Zionism. This would harm Israel’s reputation as a pluralistic democracy and cause diplomatic friction between Israel and countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and France, who have become increasingly vocal in criticizing Israeli policies — especially regarding the treatment of Palestinians in the wake of last month’s Gaza conflict.
- Israel’s right-wing parties have grown stronger in recent years. An increasingly right-wing youth vote, a greater share of ultra-Orthodox as part of the population, and new waves of immigrants after the fall of the Soviet Union have weakened Israel’s once-dominant center- and center-left parties.
- Religious Zionism includes far-right parties that want to push Arabs out of Israel and favor undermining the country’s Supreme Court to ensure right-wing policies can survive unchallenged.
- Divisions exist in the right-wing between the secular and religious right, especially over the conscription exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox, that could hamper a right-wing government but wouldn’t necessarily preclude one from forming.