Ehud Yaari: Israel’s political situation is “murky” and worrying

June 13, 2021 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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AIJAC’s latest webinar featured Israel’s leading commentator and analyst Ehud Yaari, who described the current political situation as “murky” and worrying.

Ehud Yaari Screenshot

He said he expected the new coalition would be sworn in, but thought the eight parties would lose the glue binding them once that happened, as indicated by the eight separate agreements they were having to negotiate and sign.

He said it was unprecedented that there were agreements between Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and each other party, with the primary agreement between Yesh Atid and incoming PM Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party giving each of them a veto over any decisions.

There are also, he said, important contradictions between the agreements and what he described overall as a complex puzzle to get Binyamin Netanyahu (“Bibi”) out.

Yaari said some fear violence because Bibi’s supporters were not discouraged by him from harassing MKs, especially from Yamina, not to support the coalition. MKs’ children were harassed at and on the way to school, demonstrations were held at MKs’ houses, and there has been a lot of violent and ugly talk on social media. However, Yaari believes this fear is exaggerated.

The left-wing had done the same no less seriously, he said, so there are fears of a clash between left and right-wing populism.

He is also concerned that none of the coalition agreements deals with any real issues confronting Israel, such as the Palestinians, the peace process, Iran, the JCPOA nuclear deal or Gaza.

He said the political system has totally fragmented. The left, which long led Israel, had imploded and become almost a fringe after the second intifada; the National Religious Party, historically a Labor ally, had fragmented and become ultra-radical nationalists; and the previously united Arab parties fragmented into four.

Likud is also fragmenting, which Yaari expects will accelerate, with Gidon Sa’ar having left and various members saying they’ll challenge Bibi for the leadership.

Yaari said the general opinion is that the political class is bankrupt, there is no leadership apart from the heads of the factions with only general aims, and there will be an active, bitter opposition led by Bibi, with a government having trouble making decisions. He finds it hard to see its right-wing reaching agreement with Labor and Meretz and even Lapid on domestic issues. Therefore, the government will only be able to perform on issues of the lowest common denominator, so no one should expect any great reforms or moves.

Avigdor Lieberman will have the keys to the economy, Yaari said, as Minister of the Treasury, and with his Yisrael Beitenu party also heading the budget committee and big-budget ministries. Yaari says most people “cannot swallow it”, as there are strong negative suspicions hanging over him.

Yaari said it will be “quite sensational” if the government lasts longer than a year.

Challenges it will face include Iran, which, Yaari said, is moving towards acquiring enough enriched uranium for its first bomb, but “will never do anything” without enough for five or more. He added that the Vienna negotiations to restart the JCPOA are slowing down, because of the forthcoming Iranian elections. Now, the Iranians aren’t allowing the IAEA to check their nuclear program, aren’t answering the IAEA’s questions and have turned off its cameras.

Yaari said that, for the sake of renewing the agreement, the US may just accept that the situation on the ground is different to 2015 when the agreement was originally signed. For example, Iran now has more advanced centrifuges. Interestingly, he said, IAEA head Rafael Grossi is today taking a tougher line that the US delegation. It’s important that Israel’s government decides on a clear position, he added.

Turning to Gaza, he said Hamas leaders are claiming victory, but suffered a severe blow, as the IDF implemented a plan for the destruction of most of Hamas’ military infrastructure, including tunnels, workshops and drones. He added that Hamas is unlikely to move militarily for a long time, but Israel needs to decide how to rebuild Gaza without the materiel going to the Hamas military. No one wants to go into Gaza to supervise – the UN was a failure, and the US, EU and Egypt want nothing to do with it.

Another problem the government will need to decide how to address is the moderate resumption of smuggling from Egypt to Gaza.

Bennett, he said, grew rich from his tech company, served in an elite army unit, had good ideas during the COVID crisis that weren’t listened to, and changes political positions quickly. He can make a good impression internationally, but Yaari isn’t sure how much gravitas he will bring to his new role..

Lapid, he said, is capable of playing politics and forming coalitions, but relies very heavily on a small group of advisers. He will need to run the government, which will handicap his performance as foreign minister, but he will be a very representative foreign minister when he’s not busy putting out coalition fires.

On the inter-communal violence, Yaari said that for years he said Israel’s Arab minority was a model minority, and it still is, despite the riots, he said. These were led by armed criminal gangs and subsided mainly due to the efforts of Arab leaders, especially at the municipal level, Yaari explained.

Ra’am’s Mansour Abbas leads the moderate wing of the Islamist movement. Abbas says he needs to deal with the Arab population’s issues, and the only way to do that is to join the government. Yaari says he has already achieved much, and if there is further violence with Hamas, he won’t vote with the government on that, but will stay in the coalition, given his long-term strategy to improve Arab lives. He added that Abbas is no fool.

Yaari says Bibi undoubtedly had a good foreign policy doctrine, and should be commended for the many things he achieved, but lost power because of his conduct since being indicted, which drove many of his voters away.

Joe Biden, Yaari says, gave the IDF the time to achieve its aims against Hamas, protecting Israel at the UN, but wants Israel to be smarter on the Sheikh Jarrah issue. His approach is that Hamas should not reap gains from its violence, so he’s trying to get the PA into Gaza and would like Israel to do more for the PA economically.

Biden, Yaari said, is committed to maintaining and expanding the Abraham Accords, which could have three or four more members quickly if there is a US umbrella.

The question remains how the new Israeli government will respond to the resumption of the JCPOA nuclear deal under terms all of Israel except the far left rejects. The tension there may make the US less prepared to invest in the Accords.

Yaari said Israel has been neglecting for a long time putting its case to the world, and a major task of the next government will be restructuring this capacity.

On the slur that Israel is apartheid, he said that people who say that won’t be convinced otherwise by any argument. He would tell them to visit any Israeli hospital, any factory, or any television station or editorial office. Jews and Arabs live together everywhere, and the accusation is “so baseless it belongs to the realm of ideological fantasies.”

AIJAC

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