‘Unprecedented’ Is an Understatement: How the Bennett-Lapid Coalition Can Survive

Our hearts are filled with excitement as 4 P.M. on Sunday approaches, when the Knesset is set to vote to end Benjamin Netanyahu’s prolonged rule, but our brains insist on spoiling the party.

We still remember those TV images from 1990 of Sonia Peres in a rare public appearance in the Knesset visitors’ gallery, waiting in vain for the swearing-in of her husband, Shimon, and his government at the height of the so-called “stinking maneuver” to unseat the national unity government. We all remember that embarrassing episode, I said a few days ago at a meeting of the news editors, who gazed at me with surprise mixed with a look that said: “You’re showing your age.”

But on the assumption that Netanyahu will not be able to tear up the complex weave of steps to replace him, and that from Sunday evening Galit Bennett will be called “the prime minister’s wife,” Israel will enter a new political era. The cliché “unprecedented” is small in comparison to the reality emerging from the corridors of power in Jerusalem.

A partial list: a strained coalition between right and left, whose factions are divided in their positions on every essential national issue; an Arab party becoming a partner in power; a prime minister whose party holds six Knesset seats, most of whose occupants apparently would have preferred attending a different celebration; a variety of exchanges of positions and rotation and a parity government that complicates even further the complex arrangements made by the outgoing government; the clear and immediate threats in Jerusalem, Gaza and the Evyatar outpost, which could deliver shocks to this fragile edifice in its very first days.

For all these reasons, it’s very difficult to assess how the new government will function, how long the coalition will last, and how it will respond to the security and societal challenges it will face. Those on the right call this new creature “a leftist government,” and the leftists call it a “right-wing government.” Which is correct? After all, none of the election promises of the parties that comprise it is relevant, in the absence of a clear majority on one side or the other, because of the mutual veto of controversial decisions and because any party that bolts could bring down this rickety axis. Likud, with its 30 Knesset seats and a taste for vengeance, will be waiting in the wings.

Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid in the Knesset, last week.
Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid in the Knesset, last week.Credit: Emil Salman

Lacking an agreed-on ideology or vision, the government of change will be tested by its decisions and its actions. The results will show whether this is a left-wing or right-wing entity, or both. The coalition talks showed that the members of the new coalition are hungrier for power than they are for making their ideological dreams come true. As long as sticking to their seats is their top priority, and they dismantle the ideological land mines, they can continue to pull the wagon together.

At first it will be easy, according to the tried and true custom of blaming the outgoing leader. The files will open, the documents will be leaked and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers will be denounced for the terrible budget deficit, for their shocking proposals to violate civil rights, for being swindlers and irresponsible adventurers who cared nothing for the country. Just as the Biden administration is now exposing all kinds of injustices from Trump’s term in office. And just like in America, here, too, one won’t have to dig too deeply to expose the buried evidence.

But here is where the biggest danger lurks for Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister-designate Yair Lapid: They will work so hard to show the Israeli public, the international community, Iran and Hamas that “they are not Bibi” that they may end up making hasty, bad decisions intended to “restore deterrence,” to “show who’s the boss,” to “turn the Middle East around” and the like.

They should learn from the mistakes of former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, who brought the political pillars down on themselves because of their haste to make peace or go to war. If they want to make real change in Israel and its foreign relations, the new rulers should act as Ariel Sharon did when he came into office in 2001. First they should project calm, go to work in an orderly fashion, stay away from mud-slinging with Netanyahu and his chorus, and delay any important decision until the right moment, when they have enlisted internal and external support. If they are tempted by every opportunity to “demonstrate change,” they may discover this to be the quickest path downward. They should take a deep breath, count to ten, and only then change course.

But first of all, let’s get through the swearing-in.

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