Will Israel's government collapse in the new year? - opinion

I still feel that the goal should be an authentic national unity government, if by some miracle new elections could be held soon. But as long as Benjamin Netanyahu is around, that won't happen.

 SUPREME COURT President Esther Hayut is flanked by other justices at the High Court hearing on the reasonableness standard law, last week. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
SUPREME COURT President Esther Hayut is flanked by other justices at the High Court hearing on the reasonableness standard law, last week.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

I find that this year most of my friends and acquaintances, when they wish me Shana Tova, add words such as “hopefully we shall have a calmer and more harmonious year.” I find that I do the same, and have no doubt that most of us sincerely want peace, quiet and normality, even though, deep down in our hearts, we know that the coming year is unlikely to bring these to us. Furthermore, I do not believe most of us are really willing to forego the fight for what we believe in – whether we favor the judicial reform/upheaval and its corollaries, or oppose them, because we believe, or profess to believe, that the Israeli democracy – whether in its majoritarian sense, or its liberal sense – are in danger.

I must admit that my feelings about the foreseeable situation are mixed. I have a lot of negative feelings about the conduct of the current coalition, and of many of its individual members whose conduct is irresponsible and/or outrageous, and on many central issues I find myself vociferously objecting on principle to some of its declared policies, which seek to weaken the judicial system and gate-keepers, and openly weaken many of our liberal achievements in the last few decades, such as the status and rights of women and the LGBT. I am also fearful of what could happen should the constitutional crisis assume a more practical dimension, if the High Court of Justice will decide to declare the amendment to Basic Law: the Judiciary to be unconstitutional, and thus null and void.

I console myself with the knowledge that even though the coalition commands 64 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, all the opinion polls in recent weeks show that if new elections were to be held immediately, the Coalition would lose 9-11 seats, and thus give the parties that formed the short-lived “government of change” a more comfortable majority than it held when it was in power. In addition, for the past few weeks Benny Gantz’s National Unity Party appears in the polls as the largest party, several seats ahead of the Likud, and unlike Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Gantz receives more support than Benjamin Netanyahu as the preferred candidate for the next prime minister.

Israel's government won't fall unless it collapses from within

However, the truth is that unless the current coalition will collapse from within, due to inner clashes and lack of discipline, there is no chance that new elections will be held anywhere in the foreseeable future. I find that discouraging.

When the members of the current all-Right government speak of the previous government, that was still in power this time last year, with Yair Lapid serving as Prime Minister, they invariably refer to it as a catastrophe, and the worst government Israel has ever had. This is largely because the security situation vis-à-vis the Palestinians and violence within the Israeli Arab population had both taken a turn for the worse, and the cost of living that seemed to be running out of control. On none of these counts has the situation improved since the all-Right government was formed on December 29, 2022, but the previous government is still referred to as the worst government Israel has ever experienced. 

 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Besides the makeup of the new government in which over half its MKs do not believe in Israel’s liberal democracy, and at least a third would be happy if Israel were to turn into a more Jewish state in the halachic sense, the distribution of portfolios seemed to be based exclusively on buying the loyalty of the various components at any price in order to secure Netanyahu’s survival, rather than trying to provide Israel with the optimal government that such a party makeup could provide.

And then came the bombshell. Less than a week after the new government was formed, the new Justice Minister Yariv Levin announced his far-reaching judicial reform/upheaval, which had not formed part of the Likud’s election campaign. It was not only the content of the proposed reform that rapidly got masses out to the streets in protest against what was described by the opposition as an onslaught on Israel’s democracy, but also the aggressive and sweeping legislative program that came in its wake, many components of which are reminiscent of recent developments in Hungary, Poland, and even Turkey.

I was never a wholehearted fan of the previous government, especially because since the political crisis emerged at the end of 2018, I consistently advocated the establishment of an authentic national unity government, such as the one which had existed in the years 1984-1988, based on equality between the Likud on the one hand and a centrist/right bloc such as that formed in 2019 between Lapid, Gantz, and Avigdor Liberman, and later joined by Gideon Sa’ar, on the other.

However, this was not possible because Netanyahu perceives of a national-unity government as one based on his all-Right political bloc, together with one component of the centrist bloc, which would place the latter in an inferior position. The government of change was, in my opinion, a preferable option. Because its various components had less in common than the all-Right bloc, it had to be based on maximal moderation and willingness to compromise on all sides.

On the whole, the ministers in this government were much better suited to their portfolios than are the ministers in the current government, and there were much fewer superfluous ministers than there are today. I favored, and still favor having an Arab member in the coalition, though the government did not survive long enough for this development to bring about the necessary change in the Israeli Arab sector.

The fact that close to a third of the ministers in that government were women – all of them competent, and none of them sources of embarrassment such as are to be found today, is also something to be said in favor of that government. Its main weakness was in Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party, which he did nothing, or very little, to keep together. Perhaps it was an impossible task.

I still feel that the goal should be an authentic national unity government, if by some miracle new elections could be held soon. However, since I doubt whether such a government is possible with Netanyahu, and since Netanyahu doesn’t seem ready to depart as yet from the political scene, and the Likud is not yet ready to show him the way out – the only alternative at the moment is a new, improved, more stable “government of change.” But as I have already stated: new elections will only be feasible if the current government will fall apart from within.

As long as Netanyahu appears to be prepared to continue suffering less than collegial and even defiant conduct from some of his ministers, and statements that are harmful to his foreign policy goals from both ministers and coalition MKs, and if he will manage to wriggle out of ultra-Orthodox demands to exempt all their men from military or national service on a permanent basis, his coalition is likely to survive for a while. In such a situation, the question remains whether he will manage to slow down the implementation of the judicial reform/upheaval, and attain some impressive foreign policy goals, such as the normalization of relations with Saudi Arabia.

I fear that the opposition and the protest movement must prepare for a long haul.  I hope I am wrong.

The writer worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher, and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book, Israel’s Knesset Members - A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, was published by Routledge last year.