Dramatic news indeed. It looks like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be ordering movers to come to the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem. He and his family have been living there for more than 12 years. Any Israeli under age of 20 would have little memory of anyone leading the country other than him.
Israel has been through a lot in the last two years, including the COVID-19 pandemic, an 11-day war last month with Hamas and four parliamentary elections, the first three of which were rather inconclusive. After Israel’s election in March – the fourth one – Netanyahu was called upon by Israel’s ceremonial head of state, the president, to form a government that would have a majority in parliament. He failed.
President Reuven Rivlin then called on the centrist telegenic former television anchor Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party is the second-largest in the Knesset. The law gave him until June 2 to form a coalition government. Just prior to a midnight deadline, he called Rivlin to say he and the head of the right-wing Yamina party, Naftali Bennett, had formed an eight-party coalition.
It’s a coalition government unlike any that Israel has ever had. It spans virtually the entire political spectrum and for the first time includes the United Arab List, an Islamist religious party. But the country’s two small ultra-Orthodox parties are not in the government. The coalition agreement calls for Bennett to serve as prime minister for the first two years, followed by Lapid for two years. Bennett will be the first Orthodox prime minister in the country’s history. The son of American immigrants from San Francisco, even though he has spent extended periods in the United States, his English is surprisingly unpolished.
This is a particularly nervous time for the country. Among Netanyahu’s supporters, it’s unfathomable that he would no longer be leading the country. For many of his detractors, including me, it’s unfathomable that he would remain prime minister after repeated failed attempts to remain in office – and in the middle of his trial on corruption charges.
In echoes of the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s defeat to Joe Biden, on June 2, Netanyahu’s transportation minister, Miri Regev, fumed the election was being stolen from Netanyahu. In an earlier political era, Regev would also have taken Bennett and Lapid to task for making common cause with an Islamist party, but she could hardly complain when Netanyahu did everything possible to woo the party to his political camp.
For those like me who want Netanyahu out, there is concern he will use his considerable power before the new government is sworn this month to woo away just a couple legislators in the new coalition, whose razor-thin majority would be lost, prompting a fifth election.
I have no illusions that such a broadly based coalition will have an easy time making policy, but it’s been unhealthy to have one man at the helm for so long. The right-winger Bennett is not my cup of tea, although he lives about a five-minute drive from my apartment in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ra’anana. What I think the transition will do, however, is restore the transfer of power as a natural occurrence in a democracy.
Lapid and Bennett have shown remarkable fortitude in pulling together the disparate coalition that they have. What the parties in the coalition do have in common is their commitment to remove Netanyahu from office. That’s enough from my perspective. Anything beyond that, such as restoring a commitment to good government, which has been lacking lately despite all of Israel’s successes, would be the cherry on top.
Cliff Savren is a former Ohioan who covers the Middle East for the Columbus Jewish News from Ra’anana, Israel.