The Jerusalem Post
The first 100 hours
After a week with a new government in position, the only sure thing to be gleaned is that it’s not going to be easy
In some countries – like the United States – new administrations are judged at certain landmark intervals, such as the first 100 days. On April 29 the media were full of stories and reports about US President Joe Biden’s first three months and 10 days in office – looking at what he accomplished, what he hoped to accomplish, his achievements, failures and the overall tone of the administration. It’s an American ritual for a new president.
In Israel, however, where the country changes governments with seemingly sock-changing frequency, who can wait 100 days? Wait 100 days and you might actually be one-fourth of the way through the government’s term.
The previous Netanyahu-Gantz government, for example, lasted a total of 392 days, from the swearing-in of the 35th government to the swearing-in of the 36th. But from the time it was sworn into office on May 17, 2020, to the time the Knesset dissolved itself and new elections were called in late December, only 220 days passed.
No, one can’t wait 100 days here to evaluate a new government. Here it is worth taking a look after the first 100 hours. Doing that, by the way, is not as crazy as it may first seem, since in this country more dramatic events often happen in 100 hours than in 100 days abroad.
So, how were Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s first 100 hours? What light can they shed on what the country can expect going forward?
FIRST OF all, it’s not going to be easy.
It’s not going to be easy both because of the huge ideological differences among the coalition’s eight component parts, and because the leader of the opposition – Benjamin Netanyahu – is as wily an experienced politician as he is determined to bring down this government swiftly and return to power.
Netanyahu has made clear – both via digs at the US administration in his swan-song speech to the Knesset on Sunday and by his spending only 25 minutes with Bennett on Monday in his office in handing over the baton – that he will not graciously aid or abet this government in any way. Parents sending their children to summer camp spend more time briefing their kids on what to look out for and what to expect than Netanyahu did with Bennett.
Regarding the ideological differences, everyone is well aware that this coalition includes those on the hard Right, and those on the hard Left; Peace Now supporters with Yesha Council (the umbrella organization representing communities in Judea and Samaria) veterans; and conservative Islamists with religious Zionists and gay rights advocates.
The only way such a diverse coalition can work, the leaders have said, is by avoiding the ideological issues that divide them, and concentrating on those day-do-day nitty-gritty issues that everyone can rally around: the country’s health, education and welfare issues.
Or, as Bennett said in his Knesset speech when the new government was sworn in, “Our principle is, we will sit together, and we will forge forward on that which we agree on – and there is much we agree on, transport, education and so on. And what separates us we will leave to the side.”
That sounds good, even noble, but the problem is that reality doesn’t always oblige, and that which separates has a nasty habit of creeping back in. Reality, as has already become apparent this week, sneaks ideological issues in when you least expect them.
The coalition’s first troubles appeared on Wednesday when it did not succeed in extending a law preventing Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens from gaining citizenship.
This is an ordinance that is routinely renewed each year – with the Likud always voting in favor – but one that the United Arab List (Ra’am), which is a part of the coalition, does not support.
Coalition chairwoman Idit Silman from Yamina had to withdraw the bill from the Knesset Arrangements Committee because it did not have the requisite votes to pass. The
Likud and Religious Zionist Party refused to help the coalition extend the ordinance, to embarrass it and make its life difficult.
“Next week I will bring this law to a vote,” Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked tweeted afterward. “I can’t imagine that the opposition will harm the security of the state by playing political games. I’m sure they will demonstrate the necessary maturity and support the law.”
Shaked would be wise not to hold her breath.
What is telling is that this incident came seemingly out of nowhere and created difficulties within the first 100 hours of this coalition’s life. An overline to a Yediot Aharonot story on the matter read, “Coalition in trouble” – and that just three days after the new government was sworn in!
If the Bennett-Lapid coalition already needs the assistance of the opposition to get laws passed, that does not bode particularly well for the future.
The opposition also refused to agree to pairing off coalition and opposition MKs, which enables the legislators to miss votes in the Knesset if they are ill or overseas. That refusal sends a signal: every vote, over every little thing, is going to turn into a major issue. The opposition is giving this coalition, which was approved by the Knesset by a vote of 60-59, no leeway whatsoever. None.
THAT IS ONE reality that has emerged from Bennett’s first 100 hours.
Another is that the presence of Ra’am in the coalition is not going to tie the government’s hands when it comes to military action to the degree that Netanyahu and the opposition have charged.
The new government did not have long before it faced its first major test: the once-postponed flag march in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
Not only did the government not stop the march, as Hamas and the Palestinian Authority had wanted and some Arab MKs advocated, but when Hamas responded by sending inflammable balloons into the western Negev, Israel retaliated by hitting targets in Gaza.
While at first it seemed as if the new government was creating a new equation whereby balloons that set fire to Israeli fields would no longer just be shrugged off – as they have been in the past – but would trigger an Israeli response, the fact that Israel did not respond the following night, despite more balloons being sent over, made one wonder.
Regardless, the very fact that the new government approved the march and did strike Hamas for at least some of the fires caused by the terrorist balloons sent a message that differences in the cabinet will not prevent Bennett from standing firm on issues he believes are central to the country. That message was directed both to domestic and regional audiences.
BENNETT’S FIRST 100 hours also revealed something about his style: pragmatic and managerial.
For instance, the speech he gave in the Knesset on Sunday – the one that most of the country could not hear because of all the heckling from the opposition – was very pragmatic.
Bennett wanted to radiate a sense that he has come to work, and laid out in several bullet points what he and this government intended to do: transfer infant daycare to the Education Ministry, let haredi youth enter the workforce at an earlier age by lowering the exemptions from national service from 24 to 21, increase the percentage of hi-tech workers in the country from the current level of 10% to 15% by 2026, and on and on.
For the maiden speech of a prime minister, Bennett’s was long on domestic tachlis and short on diplomatic vision. He spoke briefly about Iran and expressed the hope that “security calm will lead to economic moves” that will lead to reducing friction and conflict with the Palestinians. But he devoted much less time to either issue than one would have expected of Netanyahu in a similar situation. But that’s the tone Bennett wanted to set: we’ve come to work on the practical issues.
Bennett aimed to radiate a sense of a no-nonsense leader with his eye on the ball. While Netanyahu may have snubbed him by giving him only 25 minutes of transitional talk, Bennett did meet Monday to fill in the blanks with the heads of the Mossad, Shin Bet and National Security Council.
He asked Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman, National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat and the prime minister’s military attaché, Avi Blut, to stay at their jobs for a number of months to ensure continuity.
He also moved quickly to make some key appointments in his office: Tal Gan-Zvi as his chief of staff, Shimrit Meir as diplomatic adviser and Matan Sidi as spokesman.
Again, the message was clear: We’re here to work, without pyrotechnics, without soaring rhetoric, without drama. Netanyahu doesn’t want to pass the baton over cleanly? Okay, he’ll accept that, meet the key actors on his own, and keep moving on, without public griping or sniping.
Bennett’s first 100 hours reveal a leader who is currently all about lowering the volume. He may have had a bellyful of complaints about how Netanyahu treated him and carried out the transition, but he didn’t let on. He may have had a message for Hamas regarding the flag march and the setting of Israeli fields alight, but he sent those messages quietly.
The most defining line in Bennett’s Knesset speech came early on, when he described what he said was the ongoing rift in the country that has thrown it, “one election after another, into a maelstrom of hatred and infighting.”
These fights, he said lead to paralysis. Then he summed up what is emerging as the overall tenure tone he wants to set: “One who quarrels cannot function.”
The new prime minister’s first few days in office show that he has no interest in looking for quarrels, hoping that this will enable him and his government to simply function – something that in itself would be no small achievement.