Israelis wonder: after 12 years of Netanyahu, can politics return to normal?
For all of its potential to heal a deeply divided nation, to many Israelis – myself included – this moment seems almost strangely unbelievable. “This doesn’t sound like the big change people here were hoping for,” said Ruth Margalit, an Israeli journalist and a friend of mine. “But when you look at the last 12 years, I think Netanyahu has managed to neutralize the political debate to such an extent that it makes sense that there is not a single rival to overtake him and that the only alternative is this sort of coalition mishmash. “
This mishmash, Margalit added, is a direct product of Netanyahu’s vitriolic politics, which has succeeded in uniting an unlikely group of bed-mates against him. “It says a lot about the political culture here that a candidate with six Knesset seats out of 120 is accepted by all parties as a natural candidate for prime minister,” she said, referring to Bennett. “It’s pretty crazy when you think about it.”
At a small protest in Tel Aviv on Wednesday evening, liberal Israelis rallied to support the proposed new government. Then the news broke and the demonstration turned into a celebration. “My friends who were there were saying how strange it was to go out on the streets for Naftali Bennett,” Margalit said with a laugh. “We couldn’t have expected this for a million years.”
If this unlikely partnership of former political enemies continues, Israel will have achieved a remarkable achievement in multiparty democracy, with lawmakers with a wide variety of views coming together to remove the most powerful and dominant leader in a country. generation. Yet Netanyahu’s provocative and alienating style has imbued Israeli politics with a toxicity that some fear will persist long after he leaves the stage – that is, if he leaves, which he has so far shown no intention of doing so. As opponents of the prime minister nervously watch the upcoming Knesset vote, the question remains how long it will take for a deeply battered country to emerge from Netanyahu’s shadow.
One of the most surprising members Part of the new coalition is Meretz, a leftist party calling for an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. The last time Meretz sat in a governing coalition was in 1999, before the suicide bombings of the Second Intifada essentially wiped out Israel’s left-wing peace camp. Yasser Arafat’s rejection of then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s peace offer at the Camp David summit in 2000 – and the wave of deadly Hamas terrorist attacks that followed – led many Israelis to conclude that the Palestinians weren’t really interested in peace. This natural drift to the right was exploited, and then pushed to the extreme, by Netanyahu.
Now, Israelis of many political persuasions hope that Bibi’s departure will remove some of the vitriol that characterized politics under his leadership. Knesset member Tamar Zandberg, the former Meretz leader who is expected to become environment minister in the new government, faced nightly protests outside her home last week, as well as death threats from right-wing extremists against her and her 15 months. old girl.
She has faced threats before, but says this is the first time the threats appear to have an immediate focus. “This was organized in order to have an impact on the timing of the formation of the new government of which I am supposed to be a part,” Zandberg told me on Wednesday, while coalition negotiations are still ongoing. She noted that Netanyahu mentioned his name five times in a televised speech after Bennett announced he would work for a coalition. “And then the next day it all suddenly started,” she said. “I think it’s very similar to what Trump, his hate groups and supporters were doing before the attack on Capitol Hill.”
This atmosphere of hatred and division is precisely why Zandberg and other left-wing politicians were ready to join their right-wing rivals. “No doubt, this is not our dream government,” she said. Yet most of her constituents support the new government, she said, “because they want to change the toxic air they breathe from their leaders.”
“It’s not just corruption, indictments and right-wing policies,” Zandberg continued. “The Israelis have become accustomed to hate as a way of life. … There’s a deep sickness here that’s got to be healed.
There are already signs that the “government of change” will adopt a more conciliatory tone than Netanyahu ever did. In his appeal to President Reuven Rivlin informing him that he had reached a coalition agreement, Lapid said: “This government will work to serve all citizens of Israel, including those who are not members of it, will respect those who oppose it, and do everything in its power to unite all parts of Israeli society.
Bennett, for his part, apologized on Thursday for the mocking comments he had previously made about Mansour Abbas, the leader of Ra’am. He called this unprecedented new partnership “a significant opportunity to turn a new leaf in relations between the state and Arab Israelis”.
Still, many believe the atmosphere won’t change overnight.
“It’s like for a while at least not much will change,” Margalit said. “I don’t think they will come with these sweeping reforms, but at least maybe there will be some kind of renewed protection and confidence in democratic institutions, such as the courts and the press. It has been absent for a while.
The prospect of Netanyahu’s ouster also raised hopes for a return to more normal governance. Under Netanyahu, the government has gained a reputation for leaving important positions unfilled, appointing loyalists to positions for which they were unqualified, and, over the past two years, for not adopting a budget or policy. initiate any legislation.
“In some ways,” Plesner said, “the bar for this coalition of unity is not very high. Simply managing the affairs of state in a reasonable manner would be considered a material change. “
Even with the coalition agreement signed and a Knesset vote likely to take place around June 14, Netanyahu is doing what he does best: whatever he can to stay in power. The day after the agreement, the Prime Minister took to twitter, declaring: “All lawmakers who have been elected by right-wing voters must oppose this dangerous left-wing government” – even though it is led by Bennett, a former decidedly right-wing Netanyahu aide. On the same day, the pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom, backed by the late US magnate Sheldon Adelson, headlined: “Netanyahu does not give up.”