When Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett triumphantly secured an annual budget last week, he tweeted “now we begin!”
After three years’ political instability in Israel, the passing of the budget is thought to guarantee the longevity of the government. However, for the government led by Bennett, a very heterogeneous coalition, there is indeed more major work ahead.
Bennett leads a razor-thin majority in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. From right-wing nationalists to the first Arab party to join a government, disagreement rather than consensus is more likely to dominate possible issues.
“The budget was used as an excuse to delay discussions on all other matters,” said Gayle Tal Shir from the department of Political Science at the Hebrew University. “The government will now have a very difficult time. There will not be quiet from any direction.”
Underlying tensions are ever-present in the current coalition and an array of issues could bring them to the surface. However, with many of the partners being wary of their political future, it is hard to see any of them leave the coalition.
The construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank could test the delicate coalition. The majority of the international community considers Jewish settlements in those areas illegal and does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem, not to mention that the Palestinians see these areas as part of their future independent state.
Since its swearing-in in June, the Israeli government has quietly advanced building projects in contentious areas in Jerusalem. Plans for building hundreds of housing units in the West Bank have also been laid. The plans were submitted by the housing minister, a member of the New Hope right-wing party.
“We have reached the limit of our ability to stay silent,” tweeted Mossi Raz, a Meretz parliament member, in response to the minister’s plans.
While Bennett himself is a vocal opponent of the two-state solution, his coalition partners from the left are champions of it.
“We will oppose any step that prevents a political settlement in the future,” said the head of the Labor party and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, at the Knesset earlier this week.
“There will be an ideological fight. We will see feistiness from the left, and there is potential to rock the boat,” Tal Shir noted.
U.S. CONSULATE IN JERUSALEM
The re-opening of a U.S. consulate for Palestinians in East Jerusalem is also a cause for strain within the coalition. While both Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid have voiced their opposition to the U.S. intention, the more dovish members of the government are not as keen to butt heads with the White House.
Up until 2018, the United States had two consulates in Jerusalem, one for Palestinians and one for Israelis. After former U.S. President Donald Trump recognized the city as the capital of Israel, the two consulates were merged and housed in the new embassy.
“The sovereignty in Jerusalem is held by one country alone — the state of Israel,” said Lapid at a press conference over the weekend after the passing of the budget.
The United States is looking to improve relations with the Palestinians that deteriorated under the Trump administration. Israeli media have reported that Lapid told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the U.S. insistence on re-opening the consulate could risk the government’s stability.
“The Americans wanted to see a stable government, and they understand this will put the government in a bind,” said Eran Vigoda-Gadot, a professor of political science and governance at the University of Haifa.
Having coined “The Change government,” Bennett formed the coalition together with Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party. The unlikely agreement was based on the common desire to oust Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from his seat.
The passing of the budget is a major dent in Netanyahu’s plans to make a political comeback. In addition, there are also attempts to prevent him from even taking part in any future campaign.
Netanyahu is currently on trial for various corruption charges. Led by Justice Minister Gideon Saar, members of the coalition are promoting a law to bar lawmakers faced with serious charges from becoming a prime minister. Should the law pass, it would take effect in the next election, essentially barring Netanyahu from running.
The main opponents of the legislation come from within Bennett’s party, with Bennett himself ambiguous on the proposal. They oppose the law which they say gives too much power to the attorney general, who will de-facto be able to determine who runs for premiership and who does not. Members of the Arab party have also not promised their support.
Legislation to limit the tenure of a prime minister and supreme court judge appointments could also lead to similar disagreements within the coalition.
Despite the many outstanding issues and mixed opinions within the government, the alternative is not appealing to any of its members.
“The government will be likely to survive, as none of the partners have any interest in heading to elections at this point,” Tal Shir concluded.