How long can this “coalition of avoidance” reign? | Naomi Chazan


The Bennett-Lapid coalition is entering its ninth month. In a few weeks, her gestation period will be over. It succeeds, despite enormous obstacles, in maintaining its formal continuity. But can it also ensure the stability of governmental power? The answer to this question is uncertain as potentially conflicting decisions are either avoided or postponed almost daily.

On June 13, 2021, the Bennett-led ‘For Change’ Coalition made up of eight political parties ranging from the ideological right to the left (and including an Arab party for the first time in Israel’s history) was established on the basis of an agreement to maintain the “status quo” on all issues on which there is no consensus. This was meant to signal that the thorny issues of peace and security would be ostensibly suspended (or, as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett put it: “there will be no Palestinian state and no annexation”) .

The logic behind this decision was as obvious as it was fallacious. The diverse coalition assembled to oust Benjamin Netanyahu had one thing in common: a desire to rid the country of more than a decade of the increasingly authoritarian and populist rule of a politician indicted on multiple charges. accusation of corruption. His partners believed that by addressing the growing problems of the coronavirus pandemic and its socio-economic ripple effects, he could restore trust in the government and reset Israel’s course. What they chose to forget is that nothing is static in the country’s complex and ever-changing environment.

The divergent interests of the components of the new coalition, even when immense efforts are made, cannot be put on the back burner indefinitely. Moreover, as life progresses, new challenges constantly arise in a tumultuous regional setting embedded in a changing international order. Reality has a way of rearing its head and demanding attention, even from a government reluctant to make critical decisions. A policy of putting out bushfires when the country burns is no longer an option.

The most notorious hotspot requiring immediate action is in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood or, as right-wing activist groups have dubbed it, the Shimon Hatzadik neighborhood. The eviction of some Palestinian families from the area by Jewish settlers and the impending expulsion of another family continues to spark widespread violence far beyond its borders. Sheikh Jarrah has been a bone of contention for some time, causing multiple clashes in the past, leading to riots in May 2021 that spread across the West Bank and Gaza and then into the heartland of Israel. Violence now threatens to erupt again if the government does not take a stand. But it cannot do so without clashing directly with its right-wing fringes (which fear confronting the country’s most rabid anti-Arab elements led by openly racist MP Itamar Ben-Gvir), its left-wing components (which, aware offshoots, oppose any further unfair treatment of Palestinians in Jerusalem), or traditional allies in the democratic world who warn against any further escalation. Inaction is, in this and other cases, a prescription for an inevitable explosion.

The same goes for the disputed future of the illegal outposts of Evyatar and Homesh, which have yet to be evacuated despite long-standing court orders. These anti-Palestinian beds of vigilance have caused incalculable damage in recent months, but removing them definitively constitutes an internal powder keg which generates considerable reluctance in government circles. The result is an escalation of violence which itself is, according to the highest echelons of the defense establishment, a growing security threat.

Add to these flashpoints the continued construction of settlements and infrastructure in the occupied territories, the failure to protect Palestinian residents from settler brutality, the growing unrest in and around the Gaza Strip – fueled by politicians whose presence on the streets and in the media far outweighs their parliamentary presence. activity – and the mirage of a manageable status quo becomes even more ridiculous. The Palestinian-Israeli question can no longer be carefully glossed over as if it were an easily controllable and temporary embarrassment.

These tensions have spread to large parts of Israel inside the Green Line, with skirmishes over attempts to plant trees near Bedouin villages in the south, growing violence among Arab communities in the country , continuous clashes between hawks and doves – many of which involve law enforcement. – on the streets of Israel’s major cities, and renewing the blatantly discriminatory ban on family reunification for Palestinian citizens of Israel with the reintroduction of updated versions of the citizenship law. All of these further disrupt an already precarious domestic situation fraught with economic uncertainty, social insecurity, religious and secular conflict, and ethnic acrimony.

Deliberate indecision

These problems inevitably affect Israel’s ability to deal with burning external issues as well. Close to home, Hezbollah’s deterrent capability gave way to a stalemate, raising serious questions about the usefulness of Israel’s “interwar campaign”. The same goes for its repeated incursions into Syria under Russian auspices. And, despite multiple efforts to cement relations with moderate Sunni states — particularly in the Gulf — even the closest alliances have proven unpredictable under current circumstances.

In the wider region, it remains unclear how Israel will react to the impending revised deal with Iran after its failure to prevent its renewal without substantive changes that would address concerns about other aspects of Iran’s presence in the region. region.

All of this now impinges on Israel’s position in the face of the escalating crisis in Ukraine. Israel is trying to support US-European efforts to fortify its strategic alliance with the United States without alienating Putin’s Russia – on which it depends for maneuverability on the northern front. In the meantime, he tried to avoid taking a position on Ukraine. How much longer will this government be able to play both ends against the middle without any consequences? Such a position would be both irresponsible and inadmissible.

The effects of this willful indecision are more apparent than ever. The entrenched fragility of the current government, protests aside, is on the rise. Israeli society is even more bifurcated along socio-political lines than in the past, with uneven polarization rapidly taking root in all aspects of daily life. Security everywhere is compromised – with personal safety at rock bottom. As competing groups constantly vie with each other in every conceivable forum for power and dominance, control of formal institutions is on the decline (the exchange between Knesset Member David Amsalem and Speaker of the Upper Court Esther Hayut is an example), the public interest is sacrificed, and with it the ability to govern is severely reduced. As institutional collapse progresses rapidly, it is no wonder that citizens’ trust in state institutions has reached a new low.

A direct line connects this government to its predecessor. The model he has created builds on and deepens the trends that emerged during the Netanyahu era, accentuating the systematic erosion of the rule of law and the erosion of binding norms that have become the hallmark of the last decade. In what is undoubtedly an ironic yet unsurprising turn of events, the breeding of pragmatism-driven indecision exacerbates the implosion of the public realm.

This image can and should be reversed. But this requires four intertwined movements. First, at the immediate level, the inherited aversion to making tough decisions needs to be overcome not only on regional (Iran, Lebanon, Syria) and global (Ukraine) issues but also on issues related to the impending explosive Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Second, the government must shore up weak state institutions, which involves both strengthening accountability and ensuring horizontal and vertical checks and balances, while promoting policy coherence and implementation on an equitable and fair basis. inclusive. Third, strengthening governance cannot be achieved without fortifying the foundations of state power – in particular the rapidly dissipating monopoly on the use of force and the clear delineation of borders. Finally, in the long term, all of this brings us back to the imperative of confronting the fundamental problem of developing a sustainable, fair and just formula for how Jews and Palestinians can peacefully share the land.

All of these measures cannot be implemented simultaneously, especially not by the risk-averse coalition in power today. But if he wants to continue to govern, he must set the process in motion. This is what governability ultimately means in this part of the world, especially in the third decade of the 21st century.

Naomi Chazan is professor (emeritus) of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A former member of the Knesset and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, she is currently a senior researcher at the Hebrew University’s Truman Research Institute and the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem.


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