After endless Knesset sessions trying to get parliament to dissolve itself, it finally happened on Thursday, and the transition of power shifted at midnight from Naftali Bennett to Israel’s new prime minister, Yair Lapid.
Even as the Knesset dispersed and set the election date for November 1, the opposition showed that politics was yet paramount: it displayed its cynical face by refusing to pass a Metro Law, which would benefit us all by expanding the Tel Aviv Light Rail.
Despite the backdrop of Israel entering a fifth election campaign in a span of three years, the peaceful transition once again showed Israel at her best: a thriving democracy in the Middle East.
The symbolism is important. Bennett is leaving Israel better than his coalition found it a year ago. It is a stronger country, working on laser air defenses, working closely with the US and Central Command, building bridges with the Arab Gulf states, and also working with other allies from Europe all the way to India.
This is the Israel Jews yearned for: a country that is diverse and a prime minister who values a broad inclusive coalition. This Israel of the last year has made up for much of what went wrong in the past.
The coalition's accomplishments
On some issues, this coalition accomplished more in a year than previous governments did in 10 years. For instance, this government was able to work toward building a relationship with the Gulf states, strengthening the process begun by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It worked with the US, and reports indicate Israel and Saudi Arabia are moving toward closer ties as well. Israel has opened new doors in Jordan and Egypt, and reset ties with Turkey.
There are some disputes that are difficult, if not impossible, to solve. The issues between the secular and religious in the country – whether Shabbat laws or Kashrut supervision – may not ever be fully bridged. There are challenges that will face any Israeli leader that also may not have answers such as dealing with Hamas threats, or managing the West Bank and the desire by Palestinians for greater autonomy or statehood.
Bennett deserves the thanks of our country for his leadership, which brought a semblance of stability to the country after four tumultuous elections within a two-year period.
Lapid, whose vision and hard work brought the coalition together, and whose willingness to set aside his own ego for the greater good paved the way for Bennett to take power a year ago, was a key to the leadership that we have seen from the outgoing prime minister.
This was a team effort. Bennett, however, was the one who had to run the coalition and the ship of state for the last year. He is the one who took responsibility, and is now leaving office taking off this heavy weight from his shoulders. He has paid a price. The price is that he will not serve in the next Knesset.
“We proved that people with different opinions can work together,” Bennett said. “No one needs to give up on his opinions, but it is definitely possible and even necessary to put aside, for the time being, ideological arguments, and take care of the economy, security and future of the State of Israel. We proved that there is a shared good.”
“We proved that people with different opinions can work together."Former prime minister Naftali Bennett
Bennett showed that if one wants to unite the Left, Center and Right, there’s a hefty price to pay. Whether the defunct coalition was indeed a failed experiment, as Netanyahu and his allies loudly proclaim, or a bold attempt to realign Israeli society, depends on how you look at it.
Unfortunately because of cynicism and dirty fighting from the staunch Right, the haredi parties and the Arab nationalist extremist parties, the experiment is temporarily on hold. The sad lesson is that any leader who tries to unite the Center with the parties on the Left and Right will have difficulty managing the coalition.
Bennett’s decision to set aside political ideologies and try to get things done while managing this difficult coalition, and then leaving power, is the definition of leadership.
He’s leaving Israel in a better place than it was a year ago. Thank you.