The Jerusalem Post
Israel’s new coalition can begin a healing process
Israel’s most famous diplomat, Abba Eban, had good reason to once observe that in a country like Israel, those who do not believe in miracles are unrealistic. It appears as if Israel is now witnessing a new miracle.
Israel’s new “coalition for change” is composed of eight factions that represent vastly different “tribes” in Israeli society. The formation of this coalition is a signal that Israeli society is a life-affirming one.
It is a step forward for stateliness and a step backward for divisiveness. It is a statement that says Israel’s national interest really does stand above all other considerations.
The formation of the coalition is a bold message that says national interests come before any particular political leader – however skilled he or she may be – and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may well be the most skilled politician in Israel’s history.
The coalition’s very existence says that particular interests, or those of political lobby groups, now come second to the national interest.
And so, for the first time in Israel’s short history, we are witnessing a kippah-wearing prime minister, Naftali Bennett, a representative of the National-Religious camp, sitting at the same table with his partner, Yair Lapid, a man with liberal-humanist and secular perspectives.
Also sitting at that same table are the leader of the most radical faction of the Zionist Left and a representative of the LGBT movement, former journalist Nitzan Horovitz, and representatives of the moderate Islamist movement, headed by a dentist from the Galilee, Mansour Abbas, without whom there would be no coalition.
The photograph of Abbas, the leader of an Islamic party, sitting with the National-Religious Bennett, and the liberal Lapid signing a joint agreement with a smile of satisfaction amid mutual hugs, is historic. Not long ago, Bennett called Abbas a “representative of terror.” He has altered his stance dramatically.
That senior figures such
as Defense Minister Benny Gantz have joined this government gives it added legitimacy. Gideon Sa’ar, who recently left the Likud and will be justice minister just as Netanyahu faces trial on charges of corruption, fraud and breach of public trust is also significant.
Avigdor Liberman, Netanyahu’s former partner and present-day rival, and Meirav Michaeli, the most feminist politician in Israel’s history, who has managed to revive the Labor Party – eulogized by political analysts dozens of times in the past – all add further variety to the coalition.
Some scientists hold that in the mysterious field of quantum physics, the very act of observing a phenomenon changes it. The fact that these eight partners, with their radically different perspectives, found common ground in the call to return to “normality” and national unity, will likely change the political reality in Israel permanently – even if this government proves to be short lived.
I have known Netanyahu personally since his great success during the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, when he became an international media star. I have admired his many capabilities, determination, his analytical abilities and his fighting spirit.
In the 1990s, he once told me that whatever a prime minister does not accomplish within eight years in office, he will not accomplish afterward.
After 15 years as prime minister, at the age of 71, it is time for him to step down, both from government and from the Likud Party, and to give a chance to the younger generation.
As Mark Twain once quipped, politicians and diapers have to be changed frequently, and for the same reasons.
THE MAIN objective of this hybrid government, made up of right-wing, centrist, and left-wing parties will be to safeguard the independence of the judicial branch, which has been under assault by Netanyahu’s people, and whose legitimacy has been eroded by them. The challenges that will face this minimal majority coalition of 61 out of 120 MKs will center on the fact that the head of the opposition will apparently be Netanyahu. He can be expected to stir divisions in the coalition on a daily basis, and to seek out defectors all the time.
One development that could shorten the lifespan of this government would be an unexpected escalation in the Palestinian arena, whether once again with Hamas in Gaza, or through a violent awakening of disturbances in the West Bank. That would lead Israel to a situation that most Israelis want to avoid: a fifth elections within barely two years.
Many young Israelis know of no other prime minister than Netanyahu. For them it will be a refreshing surprise to see a prime minister like Naftali Bennett, who heads a faction with just six seats, and who, though he served in the same elite unit as Netanyahu, Sayeret Matkal, represents a different generation.
Bennett, 49, born and raised in Haifa, is the son of immigrants from California. He is the only political leader in Israel with English fluency similar to that of Netanyahu’s. He resides in Ra’anana, a city in which secular and religious Israelis live in harmony. His wife, Gilat, is secular. A father of four, Bennett is speaking in a conciliatory, calm tones as he apologizes to his rightwing voters who are unable to understand his decision to join forces with left-wing parties, and particularly with the Arab Ra’am Party.
Netanyahu calls the new coalition a “left-wing government,” even though most of its leaders are explicitly rightwing, including Bennett, Sa’ar and Liberman. Sa’ar summed it up nicely, saying it seems fine for Netanyahu to assemble a coalition with left-wing partners, but if Lapid and Bennett do it, then according to Netanyahu, it becomes an existential threat to the future of the State of Israel.
All of the right-wing leaders in the new coalition have worked directly with Netanyahu only to fall out personally with him. Liberman was the director general of his office, Sa’ar was his first government secretary, and Bennett was his bureau chief of staff when Netanyahu was head of the opposition.
Today, Bennett believes that the top priority is to heal Israeli society and to fight against internal divisions.
“Two thousand years ago there was a Jewish state that was destroyed here because of internal divisions. That won’t happen again. Not on my watch,” he recently stated.
“No one will be asked to give up their ideology,” he added, “but everyone will have to postpone the realization of some of their dreams.”