The new government in Israel, known as “the government of change,” will hold its first cabinet meeting, on June 20th. However, it has already started working at full capacity and utmost pace since it was sworn in, before the Knesset, on June 13th. There is a lot of optimism inside Israel for finally being able to change Netanyahu after a record 12 years in power, enhanced by the failure of four elections, within only two years, to install a new government. However, there are a lot of uncertainties, on regional and international levels, on whether this new government, with its coalition of odds, can appropriately handle the many domestic and regional challenges facing Israel.
According to the legally binding coalition agreement upon which the government is formed, the government will be ruled by two prime ministers on a rotational basis. For the first two years, Naftali Bennett, from the Yamina Party, will keep the Prime Minister’s office, until August 2023. Then, Yair Lapid, from the Yesh Atid Party, will take over the Prime Minister position until November 2025. Right now, Lapid serves as the Foreign Minister under Bennett. Meanwhile, the coalition forming parties shall contribute to decision-making.
The coalition forming the government is composed of a relatively large number of political parties that fall at extreme opposites of the political spectrum. From the right wing: Yamina, and Yisrael Beiteinu. From the left wing: Meretz, and HaAvoda (the Israeli Labor Party). Liberals from the center: Yesh Atid, Blue and White, and the New Hope. Hanging at a weird spot somewhere on the spectrum is the United Arab List (Raam), which is led by the Islamic Movement, a political Islamist group operating inside Israel, since the 1970s.
This is the first time ever for the Israeli Arabs to participate in forming an Israeli government. Arab Israelis represent nearly 23% of the Israeli population. Most of them are young. According to Colonel Wagdi Sarhan, Chief of the Minorities Unit at the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), dozens of young Israeli Arab Muslims challenged the norm and volunteered to join IDF, in the past few years. In that sense, it may not seem strange for the Israeli Arabs to be part of the coalition forming the new government.
However, the furious reaction by the Israeli Arabs against their Israeli Jewish neighbors, during the latest episode of war between Hamas and Israel, in May, should raise an alarm. In the heat of the conflict, they clashed with the Jews, inside Israel, and put the country on the brink of a civil war. Now, as the Arabs, who are also Islamists, have become an integral part of the Israeli government, how they are expected to react, should a new round of violence erupt between Hamas and Israel.
Nevertheless, the existence of the Israeli Arabs is not the only indigenous flaw threatening the cohesion of the vision of the new government. In fact, the structure of the coalition, which gives decision-making and veto powers to the many included parties, shall make it very difficult for the government to operate, especially on issues related to internal economic policies and handling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In that regard, we may see in Israel a scenario similar to the decision-making impasse, that the three-presidencies government of Tunisia has fallen into, in the past two years, and caused a lot of suffering to the Tunisian people.
However, on the foreign policy level, the odd structure of the coalition government is expected to benefit Israel. Apparently, all of the political parties forming the government agree on the main outlines of the foreign policy that they should apply. Unlike the Netanyahu government, which mostly depended on a fait accompli policy, the diversity of the new government may force new compromises and diplomatic priorities, especially with neighboring Arab countries and the United States.
On one hand, the government-forming political parties, collectively, desire to normalize relations with more Arab Gulf countries, while strengthening old relations with Egypt and Jordan. On June 18th, the new Foreign Minister of Israel, Yair Lapid, made his first phone call with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry. They discussed Egypt’s role in Gaza and the ceasefire deal and agreed to meet in person in the near future. Since 2015, the security and economic cooperation between Egypt and Israel have reached unprecedented horizons and is expected to strengthen further in the next years.
On the other hand, all of the parties forming the government have a clear unified position against Iran and its proxies. About one week after the election of the Israeli government, a new president in Iran was elected. On June 19th, Ebrahim Raisi, the senior Imam, and Chief Judge, who with cold blood had sentenced tens of peaceful political activists to death, was elected as the new President of Iran.
Looking at the bigger picture of the Middle East region, in light of these developments, one can hardly be optimistic that this new Israeli government may be able to manage its many domestic and regional challenges with this coalition of odds, which includes an Arab Islamist party. This is the biggest flaw that may eventually lead to an early collapse of the coalition or an early collapse of the entire government.
Also, read on The Levant