One year old, Israel’s government struggles to hang on

The Israeli ruling coalition has struggled to pass what would usually be a routine pro-settler bill.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Prime Minister Nafrali Bennet and politician and Knesset member Abir Kara, attend a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem
Left to right: Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid, Prime Minister Nafrali Bennett and politician and Knesset member Abir Kara, attend a weekly cabinet meeting [File: Gil Cohen-Magen/Reuters]

Now a year into its existence, Israel’s coalition government is struggling to survive.

The heterogeneous alliance, made up of parties from the Israeli left and right, is essentially united in its antipathy for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, and does not even hold a majority in parliament any more.

The eight-party coalition witnessed yet another defeat in the Israeli parliament last week, when it could not muster the votes to pass a bill that would extend Israeli law to Jewish settlers living in the occupied West Bank – normally a routine procedure for the overwhelmingly pro-settler parliament, which it has done on a yearly basis.

However, sensing that anti-settler members of the coalition – including a party representing Palestinian citizens of Israel – would not vote with the government, Netanyahu sank the settler bill, putting aside his own pro-settler views with the aim of pushing the government further to collapse.

Last week’s vote showed how paralysed and partisan politics in Israel has become. It was particularly interesting that the opposition around Netanyahu voted unanimously against an extension of the law – and thus against its own electorate.

It was long expected that the United Arab List (UAL), also known as Ra’am, would bring the government down by withdrawing in protest at the policies towards the Palestinians of the government it is part of.

But the UAL – the first party representing Palestinians in Israel to become a formal member of government – has been convinced to stay in the coalition.

The vote on the settler bill should have still passed, even without the votes from the UAL, if the opposition had voted according to their pro-settler beliefs.

“The failure to extend the regulations that apply Israeli civilian law to Israelis living in the West Bank was certainly a blow to the fragile coalition government,” Eyal Mayroz, a senior lecturer in the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney, told Al Jazeera.

“Expecting Palestinian Israeli MPs to support a discriminatory, apartheid-like, two-tier legal system in 61 percent of the occupied territories – one for the Israeli settlers and another (military laws) for Palestinians – was a fallacy, to begin with.”

If the law is not passed by July 1, the more than 475,000 Israelis living in the occupied West Bank will no longer have the same rights as other Israelis – including the right to vote. Moreover, settlers would automatically fall under military rule, too – like the 2.5 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank already are.

Settlers could also lose their state insurance coverage, and the government would no longer be able to collect taxes.

However, the implications of military rule go beyond financial aspects. Israeli police and judiciary would no longer have the means to take action against violations of the law by Israelis in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli settlers regularly attack Palestinian farmers, in an attempt to drive them out of their land.

The Israeli military usually does not intervene in settler raids on Palestinian farmers.

Netanyahu’s return?

Analysts have pointed out that the opposition’s vote against the bill was not about the settlers, and instead about damaging Bennett’s standing.

“While the coalition is set to reintroduce the bill in the future and will likely end up succeeding in passing it … the government has been sinking deeper and deeper into an abyss,” said Mayroz.

Netanyahu’s camp is now courting individual MKs, as well as entire parties, in an attempt to get them to defect. This would potentially lead to the opposition forming a new government, or, more likely, the fifth election Israel has seen in three years.

“Israel’s domestic political future is very uncertain these days but could depend on the relationship between two inherently opposing dynamics,” said Mayroz. “On the one hand, the political power and influence of the Israeli right continue to increase, even if at a slower speed. On the other hand, a newly emergent potential for Israel’s Palestinians, numbering over 20 per cent of the citizenry, to play a more significant role as power brokers in government, may or may not survive the current experiments.”

With the coalition crawling past its first year anniversary, a lot of Israelis believe that its fall is inevitable.

However, some analysts say that it should not be written off just yet – and that it has faced several challenges before.

“Despite ideological clashes within a coalition that stretches from the far right to the Islamist party, the current government has succeeded in overcoming major crises by passing a national budget in November 2021, the first in three years, stabilising the political and economic situations, and somewhat improving the relationship between the judiciary and the government,” Micheline Ishay, professor of International Studies and Human Rights at the University of Denver, told Al Jazeera. “These achievements have occurred despite constant threats from the right and the left to leave the coalition.”

And whatever government comes in, it will likely continue to be unable – and unwilling – to end the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory.

“Israel experiences political crises – immigration, gaps between rich and poor, inflation – shared by many of the world’s advanced economies,” said Ishay. “In Israel’s case, however, these problems are historically entwined with the lack of fundamental rights for Palestinians and by the occupation.”

Source: Al Jazeera