The weakest link

April 14, 2022 by Ron Weiser
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It turns out that the weakest link in Prime Minister Naphtali Bennett’s eight party coalition government is Naphtali Bennett.

Ron Weiser

From the beginning he has had trouble controlling his own Yamina party with one MK, Amichai Chickli, pulling out of endorsing the coalition government at its formation, leaving Bennett effectively with only 6 members from his own party in the 61 seat coalition.

Now he has lost Idit Silman MK, who defected to the opposition, leaving Yamina with only 5 MKs in the coalition and with 60 (out of 120) members of the Knesset in government.

Netanyahu, who in every single poll is far and away the single most preferred candidate for prime minister, but without enough Knesset support to actually form a government, leads the opposition, but can only muster 54 of those seats at this point in time.

Unless something develops, with any further defections in either direction, this government can limp along for a while, but without the ability to really pass significant legislation. More or less a lame duck.

Despite criticisms from all sides, this diverse coalition government actually functioned quite well, diplomacy continued and was even arguably enhanced and a very significant wide-ranging budget was passed. Moreover, Israeli Arabs became better integrated into Israel’s fabric.

None of these things are to be taken lightly.

Yet with all of that, it’s also true that Bennett is not a popular figure – neither inside his own party, nor as prime minister in general.

The current ructions set off by Silman’s desertion of the government, need to be looked at in a different light from what it may initially seem at first glance.

What is interesting and significant, is that there are simultaneously, two separate and different struggles for identity and direction going on here. These are the sources of the current instability.

It’s not really about differences or divisions between Jew and Arab at all.

But rather how each, independently and in their own way, will choose to relate to the State of Israel.

On the one hand, between the mainly Jewish parties in regards to what constitutes a Jewish State and how it should look – matters of religion and state; settlement building; final borders; et al

And on the other, between the two mostly Arab party blocks over what role Israeli Arabs should play in Israel – matters of integration; closeness to the Palestinian cause, participation in government; et al.

These are the two key fault lines and each has tremendous consequences for Israel into the future.

Mansour Abbas leads the Ra’am party, about which much has been written previously.

Ra’am was first courted by Netanyahu when he invited them into a potential Likud led government. Although they ultimately joined Bennett’s coalition, Netanyahu had effectively made them kosher.

Silman did not leave the government coalition because of some dispute with Ra’am. She left because of her general ideological differences with Meretz and Labor over numerous issues. Keeping chametz out of hospitals over Pesach was just the final trigger.

For her entire time in government, she and her family were pressured generally and personally, as with all Yamina MK’s.

She was pegged by the constituency she was comfortable to live amongst, as a ‘deserter of the right’ and was effectively called a traitor to her own principles and herself.

Silman simply could not take the pressure any longer.

Within the Israeli Arab parties, nothing better demonstrates the stark differences in approach and intent between the Mansour Abbas led Ra’am and the Joint List led by Ayman Odeh, than the response to the current wave of terror sweeping Israel.

Abbas has consistently run on a pro-integration policy and is looking to get serious gains for the Israeli Arab sector in numerous areas.

Abbas did not merely pay lip service in condemning the terrorist campaign, but he loudly and frequently and publicly condemned it.

On Channel 12 for example he said: “There are forces trying to crush us and our shared life. We must be a stronger force than them. The entire Arab sector has come out against the recent wave of terror attacks, even people who hold opposite views than I do.”

Contrast this with the outrageous call by Ayman Odeh, saying that: “Arab Israelis serving in the Israeli security forces in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including in the police, are humiliating their own people”.

Odeh called on them to: “throw down their weapons and quit” and said that his “ultimate goal was to see the Palestinian flag flying over Jerusalem”.

Mansour Abbas said of Odeh and the Joint List: “Their politics don’t have a purpose.”

Aside from the real-life ramifications of Odeh’s position, it also makes clear why Netanyahu cannot count on or use Odeh’s 6 seats to support him in anything other than possibly bringing Bennett’s government down and causing the electoral chaos that will ensue.

Which might be motivation enough for Odeh.

Just as mentioned earlier, that both sides of politics are able to rationalise including Abbas in any potential government, Odeh’s effective justification of terrorism directly or indirectly, has made him treif, off-limits for all sides – at least for now.

Even Meretz MK Yair Golan said that: “There is or has been an opportunity here to expand the Arab representation in the government, but by saying Arab police officers are ‘humiliating’ their people closes the door on the matter.”

What is driving Silman and other potential Yamina defectors, is their voter base, with a look to the future.

Similarly, what is driving Odeh, is to make the clearest possible distinction between himself and Mansour Abbas for the next election, with a view to the main base of their constituency, the Israeli Arab vote.

A Haifa University opinion poll conducted by Doron Navot found that 55% of the sample felt that conditions for Israeli Arabs had improved over the past year and that 67% are optimistic about the future.

That sort of survey alarms Odeh’s political camp.

It seems to indicate that Abbas’ way is having some success – and support.

The relative sizes of the Abbas and Odeh respective parties at the next election will give us a more accurate and wider picture of the real direction Israeli Arabs want to take.

Whilst the right dominates in the Knesset in actual overall seats, potential Likud partners in the current government, Lieberman and Saar, are so far refusing to become so, unless Netanyahu is replaced as leader.

Another potential partner to the 54 opposition seats, Benny Gantz, has unhappy memories of his last deal with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is such a polarising figure within the nationalist camp. He stands as its most popular leader and simultaneously, also the reason they cannot form government.

Meretz and Labor have no chance but to support the current coalition because if this government falls, they are almost certainly going to be consigned to the opposition chairs.

Ramadan last year brought the 11-day war initiated by Hamas. This year, it ushered in a combination of organised terror (mainly driven so far by Palestinian Islamic Jihad) and lone-wolf terrorists.

Tensions are rising over the Green Line.

Escalation is possible. From Hamas and Gaza in particular.

How both Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs resolve their own internal ideological divides, will determine the matrix for continued Israeli existence into the future.

In the interim, Israel still needs a functioning government.

Ron Weiser is the Honorary Life Member ZFA Executive and Honorary Life President, State Zionist Council of NSW


One Response to “The weakest link”
  1. Liat Kirby says:

    Such in depth discussion from Ron Weiser here. It puts into perspective the different bits and pieces I’ve been trying to grapple with over the last few weeks.

    I hope in fact that this widely diverse government can continue and do so effectively, as it seems to me there’s a lot to be gained. Improved relations between Jewish and Arab Israelis is very important for the future and making conditions for the Arab Israelis more equitable will assist that enormously.

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