Will Israel soon have a new prime minister, unseating current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has served in the position for a total of 13 years? After more than two years and four election cycles, will Israel actually swear in a coalition government?
These are great questions, and ones that may have been answered this week. However, the state of Israel’s politics are very fragile, and still uncertain.
A few minutes before midnight on Wednesday, June 2nd, and just before his mandate was due to expire, Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid party, called President Reuven Rivlin to tell him that he had succeeded in forming a government. Shockingly, Lapid managed to cobble together a government in which he will not be prime minister for the first two years and which is made up of seven different parties – spanning from the right wing all the way to the left wing on the political spectrum.
Israel also elected a new president on June 2nd. Isaac Herzog will replace Reuven Rivlin in a role in Israel’s government which is largely ceremonial.
After Bibi Netanyahu failed to form a government after this year’s March elections, the mandate was given to Yair Lapid. After the war with Gaza stalled those talks, seemingly out of nowhere Lapid announced this week he had succeeded in forming a government.
Here is a quick overview of the seven parties that will be in the new government, with their political leanings.
- Yesh Atid, led by Yair Lapid: center-left
- Yamina, led by Naftali Bennet: right
- New Hope, led by Gidon Saar: right
- Yisrael Beytenu, led by Avigdor Lieberman: center-right
- Meretz, led by Nitzan Horowitz: left
- Labor, led by Merav Michaeli: left
- United Arab List, led by Mansour Abbas: left
Interestingly enough, even though Yesh Atid is the largest party in the coalition with 17 seats, Yair Lapid has agreed to allow Naftali Bennet fill the position of prime minister for the first two years of the term, then Lapid will rotate in to become prime minister for the last two years. Naftali Bennet’s Yamina Party only has seven seats. Many people are calling it ridiculous for a party leader to become prime minister with only seven out of the 120-seat Knesset. However, a recent poll shows that 47% of Israelis support a Bennet/Lapid-led government.
Even though Bennet has made moves that have angered many of his right-wing supporters, his policies in government have nearly always been strong for the country, so it is hopeful that he will make a good prime minister. While Lapid has always been aligned with the political left, he is not necessarily a left-wing politician. As this is his first time in a coalition government, there is much we don’t know about him as an untested politician.
Here is a quick overview of how the most important ministerial positions will be allocated in the new government:
- Prime Minister: Naftali Bennett (Yamina)
- Alternate Prime Minister/Foreign Minister: Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid)
- Defense Minister: Benny Gantz (Blue and White)
- Finance Minister: Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beytenu)
- Justice Minister: Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope)
- Education Minister: Yifat Shasha-Biton (New Hope)
- Interior Minister: Ayelet Shaked (Yamina)
- Transportation Minister: Merav Michaeli (Labor)
Before we wrap up, a word about Mansour Abbas: even though Arab parties make up a large percentage of the Knesset, this is the first time in Israel’s history that an Arab party has agreed to join a coalition government. Many on the right wing are angered that politicians like Naftali Bennet have agreed to join with Abbas, who they claim supports terrorists. Abbas, for his part, has been keeping his public statements very moderate lately, even saying that he would have preferred to join a right-wing government, as opposed to the new “change government,” which is what many are calling the new coalition.
Mansour Abbas is the leader of the United Arab List, and a member of the southern branch of the Islamist Movement in Israel. The northern branch of the Islamist Movement is known for their hatred of Israel, anti-government stance, and their ties to Hamas.
Even though he has met with Hamas officials in the past, Abbas insists that he did so only to advance efforts for peace. Right-wingers claim that he has supported terrorists and Hamas, but lately, Abbas has been touting a message of peace. When Arab Israeli citizens wreaked havoc and terrorism in the city of Lod during the recent conflict with Gaza, Abbas said that Arabs would lead efforts to repair and rehabilitate the synagogues that were burned down. In an interview with Jordanian media this week however, Abbas stated that he is not Israeli, but a part of the Palestinian Arab public in Israel. Clearly, and somewhat like Yair Lapid, Mansour Abbas is a political wild card.
Altogether, the formation of a new government has left many Israelis with a feeling of hope that the country may finally get back on their feet after multiple years of political fighting and four rounds of elections. Others however, are angry that right-wing and left-wing politicians are forming a government together and claim that nothing will be accomplished due to the wide variety of political opinions that will prevail.
If all goes well, the new government could be sworn into the Knesset as early as next week, although current politicians could stall the inauguration for several weeks.