The past week has not been easy for the government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. What started just a few months ago as the “change coalition” after more than a decade of Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule, has turned more into the “fighting coalition” based on the way its members are talking about one another.
There were Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s recorded conversations leaked to the media in which she warned that Defense Minister Benny “Gantz will break up the [government],” called Lapid “shallow” and said that “every week Lapid causes an international incident that Bennett has to fix.”
Then there was the fight between Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli and Gantz over the defense minister’s decisions to designate six Palestinian NGOs as supporters of a terror organization and to authorize further West Bank settlement housing.
“Those who make declarations on diplomatic issues with international consequences irresponsibly without coordination or preparation and authorize construction of 3,000 housing units in Judea and Samara – shall we say – Rabin he’s not,” Labor tweeted.
Blue and White responded by accusing Michaeli of calling for draft dodging and said she “shouldn’t preach to us about responsibility on diplomatic and security issues.”
And Bennett himself encountered trouble within his Yamina Party when two of its members – Shirley Pinto and Abir Kara clashed over economic reforms. Kara left the party’s internal WhatsApp group, calling his colleagues “a party of idiots.” He later rejoined the group but the move pushed Bennett to convene an emergency meeting with Yamina MKs on Wednesday night.
All of this infighting comes as the coalition nears the deadline to pass a state budget. The legislation needs to pass by the middle of November otherwise, the government falls and Israel heads to another election. In the background is of course Netanyahu and his Likud Party which are actively trying to disrupt the government’s work and peel away defectors to prevent the budget from passing.
While the chances of that succeeding are slim, every member of the coalition knows that for the next few days – until the budget is brought for a vote – they have significant leverage over Bennett and Lapid.
These coalition members would do well to remember why they are in government, why they were elected to the Knesset and what brought this coalition together. There is no doubt that Meretz would prefer to be in a government that is not led by a prime minister who used to serve as the CEO of the Yesha settlement council. It is also no doubt that Shaked would prefer to sit in a government that does not include members of the Islamist Ra’am Party or members of Labor who believe that Israel is unlawfully occupying the Palestinian people in the West Bank.
But they came together in June because Israel genuinely needed change. It needed to put an end to the non-stop cycle of elections that had created governmental paralysis and prevented a state budget from being passed that is so desperately needed by the country.
For too long, this country was stuck and was being ruled as the personal fiefdom of a single person who felt that his own fate was more important than the interests of the nation. If he could not serve as prime minister then no one should be able to, went the thinking and unfortunately, the nation suffered. Budgets were not passed, election after election took over our lives and the infrastructure projects, the revamping of the IDF, the budgeting of schools, new buses, railways and hospitals all fell to the side.
Hopefully, that will come to an end in the coming two weeks when a budget is scheduled to be passed. It will not be easy and as the voting nears, tension within the coalition’s ranks will intensify. To overcome this hurdle, the coalition members need to remember why they are in office.
While a desire to remove Netanyahu might have brought them together, they now have a real chance to influence the trajectory of this nation and improve the quality of life for its people. Keep your eye on the ball. Pass the budget.