The agreements for the new government were signed on the 11th of June, two days earlier than the deadline. The right-wing Yamina party was the last one to sign the agreement, joining in this way, the coalition led by Yesh Atid. The new coalition is formed of right-wing Yamina, New Hope, and Yisrael Beitenu, centrist Yesh Atid, the center-left Blue and White Party and Israeli Labor, left-wing Meretz, and the Arab Ra’am. This is the first Israeli government to include an Arab party.
The coalition was formed primarily with the goal of putting an end to the long period of Benjamin Netanyahu being in power. This is the reason why we can see so many different political ideologies in the same coalition. The fact that there are many different parties in the new government gave rise to distrust and questions regarding the direction that the coalition will take on issues such as the two-state solution and the Iranian nuclear deal.
The leader of the Yamina party, Naftali Bennet, is now the new Prime Minister of Israel. He is the 13th PM of Israel and he will be serving in this function until August 2023, when Yair Lapid will be taking over for the rest of the four-year term. In the meantime, Yair Lapid will be the foreign minister. After announcing the new coalition, Naftali Bennet stated: “We are faced with great challenges and all the citizens of Israel are looking to us with hope. […] The government will work for all the Israeli public — religious, secular, ultra-Orthodox, Arab — without exception, as one.” Similarly, Yair Lapid said: “The Israeli public deserves a functioning and responsible government that places the good of the country at the top of its agenda. That’s what this unity government has been formed to do. All the partners in this government are committed, first and foremost, to the people of Israel.”
The 36th government of Israel was approved by the Knesset, having obtained the vote of confidence on Sunday. 60 members of the Knesset were in favor of the new government, while 59 were against it. Only one member abstained from voting and he is coming from the Ra’am party. After the vote, the new ministers were sworn in, Naftali Bennet being the first, followed by Yair Lapid. The new government has 28 ministers. This whole process did not go smoothly, as the opposition interrupted the ceremony several times.
The new Prime Minister and the United States President, Joe Biden, had had their first call shortly after the ceremony. The conversation between the two, as well as the nice words coming from the US President, indicate that the United States government is keen to cooperate with the new government in Israel.
Moreover, Naftali Bennet was congratulated by other political leaders from around the world. Angela Merkel’s spokeswoman tweeted: “Germany and Israel are connected by a unique friendship that we want to strengthen further. With this in mind, I look forward to working closely with you.” Also, the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz congratulated the new government: “Austria is committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will continue to stand by Israel’s side.”
On the other hand, some reactions also came from the Palestinians. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said: “This is an internal Israeli affair. Our position has always been clear, what we want is a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.” The same attitude was transmitted by Fawzi Barhoum, the spokesman of Hamas: “Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity. It is an occupation and a colonial entity, which we should resist by force to get our rights back.”
The events happening last week ended the 12-year rule of Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister, as well as the more than 2 years of political deadlock in Israel. The former Prime Minister tried hard to form a new government but failed, not being able to draw enough allies to support him. In his last speech as the PM of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the Biden Administration for wanting to return to a nuclear deal with Iran. He continued by saying that the new Prime Minister is not capable to confront the United States. Furthermore, Benjamin Netanyahu warned that he will be back soon.
Benjamin Netanyahu held an emergency meeting after losing his position. He tries to keep his allies close, especially the two ultra-Orthodox parties, to remain united behind him and hopeful for returning to power. Netanyahu’s collaboration with the ultra-Orthodox parties was one of the most powerful in the state’s politics. For many years, Netanyahu entrusted them with power, key responsibilities, and budgets, while they served as the prime minister’s safety net. His ultra-Orthodox allies remained with him in the opposition.
Just like the former government, the new one is unlikely to ever accept the two-state solution. Still, it is to be seen how the new government will behave towards the Palestinian people.
The annual Flag Parade took place on the 15th of June in Jerusalem’s Old City. It was organized by the nationalist wing and it saw around 5 000 Israelis march the Old City. The march is generally held in May to commemorate the unification of the city following the 1967 Six-Day War. It was canceled this year due to the fights that took place between the Israeli people and the Palestinians. Several demonstrators chanted anti-Arab slogans such as: “Death to Arabs”, “Burn down your village”, “Jerusalem is ours”, and “Shuafat is on fire”. The participants also criticized Naftali Bennett as being a traitor and put up banners that said “Bennett the liar”. The dissatisfaction came as a result of the admission of the Ra’am party in the new government, despite vows not to. Some far-right members of the Knesset, such as Bezalel Smotrich, Itamar Ben Gvir, and Orit Struck also participated. All of them belong to the Religious Zionist party. Also, few Likud members were present, for example, May Golan and Shlomo Karhi.
Yair Lapid condemned the events that occurred during the Flag Parade. In this respect, he tweeted: “The flag march in its current format had to be approved. I congratulate Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev on his excellent preparation and organization of the event. Still, the fact that there are extremist elements for whom the flag of Israel represents hate and racism is revolting and unforgivable. It is incomprehensible that people can hold the Israeli flag in one hand and shout ‘Death to Arabs’ at the same time. This isn’t Judaism or Israeliness, and it is definitely not what our flag symbolizes. These people are a disgrace to the nation of Israel.”
As a response to the march, Hamas-linked groups decided to test the new government by sending incendiary balloons towards Israel. This happened on the 15th of June, just two days after the new government was officially formed. The factions in the Gaza Strip fired hundreds of such balloons in southern Israel. This continued in the following days. No human injuries were reported until now, but the balloons have sparked several fires in the southern territories of Israel.
Israel responded to the incendiary balloon attacks with airstrikes on Gaza, beginning on Wednesday. The announcement was issued by the Israel Defense Forces. The air raids were also reported by the Palestinian News Agency, claiming that material damage resulted from the attacks. Confirming the Israeli attacks, a Hamas spokesperson said Palestinians will continue their “brave resistance and defend their rights and sacred sites” in Jerusalem. These are the first airstrikes in Gaza since a truce was instituted, last month. Also, the Israeli police fired bullets at Palestinians protesting a Jewish ultranationalist march through Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods.
The latest events between the two sides represent a challenge for the newly sworn government and it is to be seen how it will tackle these problems.
About the author:
Delia-Maria MOTAN is Intern research at MEPEI, and her research interest lies in international relations and political science in the Middle East. Currently, she is studying at the Faculty of the Political Science / University of Bucharest.