Editor’s Note: This is a letter that retired Sarasota lawyer Harold Halpern, a board member of the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Lawyers, wrote to a friend in Israel.
Dear Stu, It’s time to share my thoughts on a new government, which may soon be in place unless there is a last-minute defection of one or more former supporters who are under intense pressure from the Premier. Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to return to the fold.
This latest election, like the last three elections, was all about Netanyahu, not problems. He was opposed not only by the left and center parties but also by two former supporters: Naftali Bennett, leader of Yamina, and Gideon Saar, leader of New Hope, both right-wing parties. The disparate parties were united in the desire to end Netanyahu’s 12-year rule.
Make no mistake, opponents of Netanyahu have acknowledged that he presides over a strong economy, resisted attacks on Israel’s policies and its existential right to exist, obtained the Abrahamic agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, all Muslim countries, and keep the country safe from terrorism. However, the change group argued that any success for Netanyahu pales in the face of his personal failures as a corrupt leader and divisive under criminal charges.
The new government coalition, once approved by the Knesset, will be made up of eight political parties, including two right-wing nationalist parties, two center parties, a secular nationalist party, two left-wing parties and an Arab-Israeli Islamic party. They have 61 members in the Knesset and Netanyahu supporters have 59 members.
While there are significant differences between coalition programs, there are also areas of common interest. With a majority with one vote, unity and compromise will be necessary to avoid a collapse. His first compromise was to appoint Bennett, with only six members from Yamina, as prime minister for the first two years, followed by Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid, a center party with 17 members, the largest bloc in the coalition. . This compromise enabled the parties to reach an agreement on government ministers and the broad lines of governance.
The new government will face many challenges, including security, the West Bank, the budget, Arab-Israeli relations and age-old religious tensions. On some of these issues there is no significant difference, but others will require careful balancing to avoid a fall of the government.
Here is my take on these issues.
All parties agree on the security policy. Israel will take all necessary measures to protect itself from all threats, whatever the source, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and everyone else. Unlike security, there are substantial differences about the West Bank. The left and the center want to maintain a two-state solution and oppose the increase in settlements and annexation. On the other hand, Bennett, Saar and Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beteinu, reject the creation of a Palestinian state and support the continued colonization and annexation of part of the West Bank. However, Bennett understands that annexation is not feasible now.
The tension will likely be resolved by maintaining the status quo. Jewish-Israeli and Arab-Israeli relations have been strained. However, a new chapter may have started. In Israel’s 73-year history, it was taboo for an Israeli Arab party to be part of the governing coalition. Now, for the first time, an Israeli Arab party, Ra’am, winner of four seats, led by Mansour Abbas, will be part of the government. It couldn’t have happened at a better time; right after the physical attacks by extreme Israeli Jews and extreme Israeli Arabs on each other during the Gaza war.
The majority of all Israelis, Arabs and Jews alike, hope that this decision will encourage the process of integrating Jews and Arab Israelis into society. Arab Israeli citizens, 20% of the population, have equal legal rights but have not had distributive equality. The coalition agreement addresses this issue by providing a significant amount of new funds for Arab Israeli economic development, infrastructure and the fight against organized crime and pledges to recognize the legality of three Bedouin villages in the Negev.
Bennett called Abbas “brave”. Ra’am’s cooperative commitment is a natural consequence of the Abrahamic accords, which established mutual acceptance and cooperation between Muslim nations and Israel. May these new relationships encourage an end to acts of violence between the extreme elements of Israeli society, both Arab and Jewish.
Stu, the new government will face a long-simmering question about the role of religion and the state, religious freedom and pluralism. The ultra-Orthodox represent 12% of the Jewish population. However, its rabbinate maintained a monopoly on religious practice. Ultra-Orthodox receive a disproportionate share of their school budgets and family support from their students, including those who have the special privilege of being exempt from military service until the age of 35. The majority of Israelis do not appreciate the rabbinate and special privileges.
Until this last election, the votes of ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset were needed to form a government. This allowed them to retain their special privileges. The new government is the first in a long time not to depend on the votes of the two ultra-Orthodox parties. Lieberman, who will be finance minister, is a strong supporter of religious pluralism. His power of the stock market can bring some change.
Stu, that’s it from here. There are other issues, including relations with the American administration and with the American Jewish community. More on that later.
Harold Halpern is a retired lawyer residing at Lakewood Ranch. He is a member of the board of directors of the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and the West Coast section of the American Jewish Committee.