A year after the Israeli coalition government, which remains fragile

A year ago, many, including Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett himself, questioned the viability of his ideologically divided eight-party government coalition... that remains fragile today.


"A year ago, I wasn't sure I could do that," said Bennett, the leader of the hardline Yamina party.


On June 13, 2021, Israel turned the page on the 12-year non-stop rule of right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu, after a political crisis that led to four elections in less than two years.


The architect of the coalition and the current centrist foreign minister, Yair Lapid, concluded an agreement with Bennett to form a government that brought them together with other left, right and center parties in addition to the Arab bloc, for the first time in the history of Israel. The two men are supposed to exchange positions in the middle of their four-year terms.


The first anniversary of the establishment of the Diversified Alliance falls next Monday, but some critics believe that there will be no second anniversary, while some doubt that it will live until the end of this month.


In early April, the government coalition lost its parliamentary majority, with right-wing MP Idit Silman announcing her withdrawal of her support for it.


An Arab female MP withdrew from the left-wing "Meretz" party last month, which lost the government the majority, but then returned, and the coalition now has the support of 60 deputies, compared to 60 of the opposition.


However, the current crisis, rooted in one of Israel's most sensitive fault lines, could prove fatal.


Two coalition MPs, one from the Arab List (an Arab Islamic party) Mazen Ghanem and one from the left-wing Meretz party, Ghida Rinawi Zoabi, refused to vote in a first reading in the Knesset, to extend a measure ensuring that Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank are subject to Israeli law.


Any action that leads to the thinking that settlers live outside Israel could be anathema to the other coalition partners, particularly the prime minister's party and the hard-line "New Hope" party led by Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar.


But it is not known how this crisis will end.


In response to written questions by AFP, Bennett said, "The alliance has already proven its value and demonstrated the advantage of compromise between opponents."


"After a year of actually running this government, my biggest realization is that Israel is at its best when we work together, overcome our differences, and focus on the good of the country," he added.


"What started as a political event turned into a goal and succeeded," he continued, referring to the approval of the budget in November, which was Israel's first in three years.


"One year ago, Israel was heading towards its fifth elections in two years, and it was paralyzed by polarization," Bennett stressed, adding that the current government "is a solution to polarization."


When the former head of the Council of Settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip first ran for the Knesset in 2012-2013, he drew attention for delivering nationalist messages, albeit with a new tone. One of his campaign slogans at the time was "there are certain things that most of us understand will never happen. The soprano will not return for another season, and there will be no peace plan with the Palestinians."


Bennett has not changed ideologically. He opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state and has asserted that there will be no peace talks during his term, while his government has agreed to build new homes for settlers in the West Bank.


Bennett said he instead wants to expand economic opportunities for Palestinians, including access to higher-paying Israeli jobs.


But some experts say Bennett's first year in charge revealed that he was somewhat mistaken for an unwavering hardliner.


"Bennett puts the interests of the state ahead of the interests of the ideological camp he represents," said Yedidia Stern, head of the Institute for Jewish People Policy and professor of law at Bar-Ilan University.


Hatred of Netanyahu was the common denominator among the coalition members. Netanyahu was in power from 1996 to 1999, and again from 2009 until June of last year.


While many of Bennett's associates share Netanyahu's hard-line view, they broke with him over concerns that he was undermining state institutions to advance his personal ambition and to survive a corruption trial, which he denies.


Many saw Netanyahu, a close ally of former US President Donald Trump, as fueling right-wing populism and bolstering conspiracy theories about hateful judges, bureaucrats and journalists.


Ami Pedahzur, author of the book "The Triumph of the Israeli Far Right," says that Bennett's government is made up of "institutionalists who have resisted the notion that "a gang or a deep state is trying to seize power from the people."


"The divisions between the left and the right were temporarily suppressed by a common desire to defend the institutions for a while," says Bedhatzur, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin.


Bennett praised his coalition for "preserving the integrity of Israel's democracy."


"It is not about making the left happy one day and the right another," he said. "It's about listening to each other, listening to different points of view and at times condescending."


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