Israel’s putative ‘government of change’ hangs in balance

Efforts to oust Netanyahu may falter as cracks appear while agreements signed

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu: held a  meeting with his right-wing and religious allies to plot the downfall of the nascent coalition. Photograph: Ronen Zvulun

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu: held a meeting with his right-wing and religious allies to plot the downfall of the nascent coalition. Photograph: Ronen Zvulun

 

A day after Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid, announced he had succeeded in forming a wide-reaching coalition to replace Binyamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime minster after 12 consecutive years in power, the chances of the “government of change” actually being sworn in hang in the balance.

Knesset members from the eight parties in the emerging coalition together comprise only 61 of the 120 Israeli lawmakers – a wafer-thin majority that means any one of them breaking coalition discipline will endanger the majority.

Even as the final coalition agreements were being signed on Wednesday night, the first cracks began to appear.

Nir Orbach from the far-right Yamina, whose leader Naftali Bennett is scheduled to serve first as prime minister in a rotation agreement with Lapid, expressed doubts about the emerging coalition. Yamina has only seven Knesset seats and one of its MKs – members of parliament – has already declared he will not back the government. If Orbach follows suit, the government could collapse even before the swearing-in ceremony in the Knesset, which will probably not take place until the week after next.

Polls show more than 60 per cent of Yamina voters oppose joining the proposed alliance with the left and centre and an Arab party.

‘Emergency meeting’

The pressure from the right, orchestrated by Netanyahu, popularly known by his nickname Bibi, has been relentless and it is about to step up a gear.

Netanyahu held an “emergency meeting” with his right-wing and religious allies on Thursday to plot the downfall of the nascent coalition, targeting the members of Yamina and the other right-wing MKs in the anti-Bibi alliance.

“All Knesset members who were elected with the votes of the right must oppose this dangerous left-wing government,” he tweeted.

Demonstrations outside the homes of Yamina and other right-wing coalition members will continue until the Knesset swearing-in ceremony. The social media campaign includes open incitement, calling the Yamina MKs traitors and supporters of terror.

Yamina Knesset member Matan Kahana admitted that the party’s lawmakers are under tremendous pressure to back out of the new coalition.

“It’s everywhere. Social media, phone calls, protests outside homes – to the point of crossing some red lines. Some MKs feel their children are being threatened. The prime minister is definitely stirring the pot but not just him. Our rivals are sparing no effort to undermine us,” he said.

Arab party

The radical right are particularly incensed over the fact that the United Arab List (UAL), also known as Ra’am, with four seats, is supporting the government, although it will not have a ministerial portfolio.

This marks a watershed in Israeli politics as it is the first time an Arab party has joined an Israeli coalition. The move takes on particular significance as it comes only a few weeks after unprecedented communal riots spread across Israel during the latest Gaza war and particularly in mixed cities such as Jaffa, Lod and Acre where Jews and Arabs live side by side.

Ironically, it was Netanyahu himself who legitimised the right endorsing the Islamist UAL, after he held talks with the party in an effort to persuade them to join the coalition he was trying to form.

Even if the change in government eventually comes into being, it is clear that such a wide-ranging coalition will not be able to take decisions without a consensus.

The left-wing Meretz, which is to be part of the new government, declared on Thursday that it would promote legislation for same-sex marriage. UAL responded with outrage – a taste of what is to come for an administration that, even before it is sworn in, is already being dubbed the government of paralysis.