Israel is in for a fifth election in four years, and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu could score a comeback
Israel's unlikely eight-party coalition government took the decision to dissolve, last Monday, ushering in the fifth round of elections in just four years. An election from which Israeli opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, eyes a comeback and proves the domestic vulnerabilities of Tel Aviv that its enemies may seek to exploit.
In June of 2021, an unprecedented Israeli coalition government was sworn in after a tenuous period of two years, during which four national elections had taken place. At the center of Israel's political mayhem has consistently been former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and one year later not much has seemed to have changed. Israeli PM Naftali Bennet, of the far-Right Yamina Party, decided to call it quits and dissolve his government, handing over his title to his coalition partner Yair Lapid, who will soon be sworn in as interim prime minister, awaiting a new round of elections.
What is important to understand about Israel's political mess, is that the Israeli Knesset has always been and continues to be a deeply divided place, there has never been a single party government, only ever coalitions. Last year's eight party coalition was perhaps the most ideologically diverse, claiming a slim 61 seat majority needed to form a government by making sizable political compromises, such as allowing an Arab party into the government for the first time in Israel's history.
Although many Israelis did initially support the coalition government, it quickly proved ineffective and weak on multiple fronts, due in large part to such a committed opposition bloc led by Netanyahu and his center-right Likud party and also because the coalition parties disagreed on so much. The last straw that broke the camel's back came earlier this month, as the Israeli government failed to pass an emergency bill that allows illegal Israeli settlers the ability to be governed under civilian law, while the Palestinians in the same territories live under Israeli military law. The bill is normally renewed every five years and is seen as one of the easiest pieces of legislation to pass, yet due to the refusal of the Israeli opposition to vote for it, the governing coalition itself could not muster enough votes in the Knesset to pass it.
From the get-go Netanyahu had been calling the right wing parties of the coalition sellouts, claiming that the Left, along with the Islamist Raam Party, had insideously plotted an anti-right wing takeover. This was despite the coalition mostly consisting of far-right, centrist, islamist and center right parties, with only two espousing a left lean. Whilst popular Israeli political figures on the right, such as Justice Minister Gideon Saar, Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and Naftali Bennett himself, had all received public support from their political loyalists for their anti-Netanyahu stances, the next election results may prove them to have committed political suicide for joining a government with centrists and an Arab party.
If it is true, as is speculated, that former prime minister Naftali Bennett and other right wing members of his dissolved coalition will face a backlash at the polls, Benjamin Netanyahu may have just pulled off a majorly successful powerplay. One that could secure him, and his allies, enough seats to form a coalition government later this year.
Often left out of the conversation in all of this are the Palestinians, who will not experience much of a change on the ground regardless of which government is ushered in next, but whose political representatives will seek to take advantage of Tel Aviv's crisis. Hamas, the most popular Palestinian political party that rules the Gaza Strip, will be looking to take advantage of the Israeli political elites' weaknesses in an attempt to either ease the blockade, or alternatively will be studying the opportune moment to strike Israel.
Over the past year the Israeli ruling coalition has not maintained a unified stance on how to address the Palestinian issue. An example of this was Israel's West Bank policy, whilst Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid and defense minister Benny Gantz opted for a closer security cooperation relationship with the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, prime minister Bennett refused to even look their way publicly.
US President Joe Biden has a scheduled Middle East visit in mid-July, during which he will also travel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and has caused some speculation on a push to normalize ties between Tel Aviv and Riyadh. In reality it is more likely that the visit will be aimed at bringing Middle Eastern countries together to combat Iranian influence in the region. Now that Israel is, in effect, without a government again, Joe Biden will be more likely to have to play a balancing game during his visit, sidelining serious policy objectives. All of this is to say that Israel is in a place of weakness now due to its political uncertainty.