Not much to sum up: Israel’s “Government of Change”

The Bennett-led government is wobbling. Since resignation of coalition leader Idit Silman (of the Yamina party), it has lost its thin majority in the Knesset, and the countdown has begun. How will the government fall? There are two alternatives: a vote of no confidence or dissolution of the Knesset.  The no-confidence alternative must be “constructive”, meaning there must be a candidate for prime minister from within the current Knesset who can muster a majority, thus rendering an election unnecessary. On the other hand, dissolution of the Knesset requires an absolute majority of 61, followed by an election, but here too there is a “twist.”

According to the current coalition agreement, if two MKs from Bennett’s right-wing bloc (Yamina and Tikva Khadashah [New Hope]), break ranks and support dissolution of the Knesset, then Yair Lapid of centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) will take Bennett’s place as prime minister, pending a newly elected government. (The same agreement excludes MK Amichai Chikli (Yamina) from being among the two, because he has voted against the government from the start.)   On the other hand, if a member of the United Arab List (UAL) leaves the coalition and supports new elections, Bennett will serve as the transitional PM, with all the benefits of an incumbent during the campaign.

But let’s start from the beginning. Lapid and his allies on the Left were forced to grant the prime ministership to Bennett, even though the latter’s Yamina had won a mere six seats. This marked the odd character of the government. The sole reason it has lasted a year is aversion to and fear of Netanyahu, which forces its members to twist and turn, politically and ideologically. Yet the current Knesset’s gravitational center is clearly on the right. Yamina members are influenced by the right-wing pull, peeling off from the coalition and speeding its death. Following the resignation of Silman, all that remains is for Nir Orbach, director general of a Yamina faction called the Jewish Home, to take steps to ensure the government falls. Yair Lapid will then replace Bennett in a transitional government until a newly elected one is sworn in.

Although the Bennett-Lapid rotation agreement initially gave Bennett and his like, representing the settler Right, the top job and other key positions, it soon became clear they could not deliver what the settlers wanted. On the other hand, the government’s left-wing factions, Labor and Meretz, swallowed every conceivable frog to maintain the coalition. Their purpose was to somehow get through Bennett’s first two years and reach the day when Yair Lapid would become PM. But this coveted day is like the horizon, which moves ever farther away as you try to approach. In addition, members of Yamina have shown how much they suffer in the hybrid government. It seems that a Lapid-led government would drive them into the lap of Netanyahu and the right-wing bloc.

Apparently, this is why UAL party head Mansour Abbas (The Islamic Brotherhood) , who had frozen his faction’s participation in Knesset votes following disruptions and police violence at the al-Aqsa mosque, returned to the coalition. UAL did not want to take responsibility for the government’s overthrow. This would not only signal failure of its political strategy, but it would grant the transitional prime ministry to Bennett. It seems that Yamina’s Nir Orbach will do the work instead by resigning. If he does, the transitional PM will be Yair Lapid, who suits Abbas better.

Beyond this cynical political game, and regardless of who will be PM, the change that this government promised was miniscule, and the fundamental problems that threaten the integrity and security of Israeli society have only intensified. If the fact that a criminal defendant is not serving as prime minister signifies change, then what we have is indeed a Government of Change. The style of speech has undoubtedly improved, as raw vituperation has given way to pleasantness, mutual support, and reconciliation. However, niceness is not the main role of a government. A government is supposed to deal with fundamental problems, and here it has failed miserably.

The fact that after twenty years Israel is forced to return to Jenin to fight terrorism is a clear failure that cries out to heaven. As usual, the Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, has gone to search for terrorism under the lamplight, when the wave of attacks actually came from Hura and Umm al-Fahm, both in Israel, inspiring young people in villages scattered throughout the West Bank. There is nothing in the Israeli army’s much touted entries into Jenin that will change its ability to control this refugee camp. It is merely a show to slake the Israeli thirst for revenge.

The government has decided to ignore the Palestinian issue on two grounds: its ideological heterogeneity does not permit it to handle politically explosive tasks, and it continues to broadcast the mantra that there is no Palestinian partner. But what about the “civil” issues that the “Government of Change” was created to resolve? Here the coalition depends only on itself, but it has been an abject failure. A few examples will suffice. Instead of narrowing social gaps and raising labor productivity, the government continues to nurture high-tech at the expense of other sectors. The housing crisis deepens day by day, and apartment prices are increasing 20% annually. The educational system is in deep crisis, and thousands of underpaid teachers are leaving the profession. Kindergartens and nurseries suffer from low-quality staffing, and horrific stories of violence against children appear in the mainstream news. Hospital reform cannot get underway due to a severe shortage of doctors. In ​​transportation, the government continues to encourage the purchase of private vehicles over use of public transportation. The frequency of trains is decreasing and traffic jams make commuting a nightmare. Climate policy has become a hostage of the Chevron Corporation, while promises of alternative energy remain on paper. Neglect of Arab society continues as usual, with the government interested in fighting violence but not addressing its root causes: the huge social disparities, widespread unemployment among youth, and a poor educational level.

There is no doubt that change is needed, not in style but in content. Israel has been captive for decades to political, economic and social conceptions that have lost their relevance. The success of high-tech on the one hand, and Israel’s military power on the other, dazzle and entangle the country. High-tech does not solve the problems of a socially, culturally and politically divided society, nor is military force an answer to the needs of five million Palestinians lacking any civil or national status. The political crisis that threatens to lead us to a fifth election campaign, and the inability to form a stable and functioning government, express the unwillingness of the political establishment in all its parts – Right, Left and the Arab parties – to step out of their ideological fixations and propose ideas toward a better future.

Those who ignore the Palestinian question will not find solutions to the problems of social disparity, housing, education, transportation, health and welfare. It is no coincidence that Israel links its fate to dark regimes that perpetuate the past. It continues its ties with Putin, refusing to join the democratic camp in the Ukraine war, because of the same ideological fixation. As long as there is no democratic movement based on equality between Israelis and Palestinians, we will continue to be entangled in pointless rounds of elections. If we do not change reality through our actions, it will not change on its own.

About Yacov Ben Efrat