This Sunday, on the front page of the Israeli media and in the minds of the Israeli population, a national catastrophe eclipsed the political agenda. A rally of some 100,000 pilgrims in the north of the country ended in the death of 45 people trampled by the crowd and hundreds of injured. This tragic accident took place overnight from Thursday to Friday. This Sunday has been declared a day of national mourning and, this Monday, Parliament will meet for a funeral session.
Yet the political agenda is precisely at a crossroads. Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister without interruption since 2009, is expected to find himself leader of the opposition. Netanyahu had 28 days to form a government, which ends Tuesday evening. However, he did not succeed. Yet he tried everything, including trying to convince the racist far right to govern with the support of an Arab party. And, last week, with his back to the wall, he considered renewing the formula of a coalition with rotation for the post of Prime Minister, where he himself would be in second place contrary to what happened. for the government established in May 2020. And he even dared to propose this solution to Benny Gantz, precisely the alternative Prime Minister, who should have become head of government next November, if there had not been elections last March . The latter of course refused.
“This time it’s over, he has to go”
Then Netanyahu, not knowing which way to turn, offered this same rotation formula, but this time to two right-wing political figures, Naftali Bennet and Guideon Saar, who also declined the offer. The daily Jerusalem Post compared this maneuver of “selling the post of Prime Minister” to that of the vegetables haranguing the barge in a market.
Nevertheless, Naftali Bennet, leader of the Yamina party, was very tempted. “But Netanyahu made major mistakes,” remarks Denis Charbit, professor of political science at the Open University of Israel (1). This made Bennet realize that no deal would be honored, that even though he was prime minister, Bibi would do whatever he wanted because his party, the Likud, would have more ministers than Yamina’s. In other words, Bennet would have had the title but not the power ”.
In fact, Netanyahu ended up disappointing everyone who ruled with him, except perhaps the ultra-Orthodox parties. And yet, this is no longer certain either. A deputy from Shas, concerned about his anonymity, recently told us that “this time it’s over, he must leave”. And, in his own party, the Likud, some support him half-heartedly while waiting for it to finally be their turn.
After twelve years in power, the time has come to take stock. “The overall external performance is remarkable,” emphasizes Denis Charbit; starting with the Abrahamic accords. And he achieved what he wanted: to make the whole world no longer interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, on the Iranian file, if he had convinced Donald Trump to abandon the nuclear control agreement, Bibi’s magic did not work on Jo Biden. In economic terms too, the results are generally positive ”. Before the covid 19 crisis, unemployment was at 3.4%, a situation of full employment. “And with regard to the vaccine against covid, he made a winning bet even if the management of the pandemic was questionable. But where the results become catastrophic, it is on the institutional level. “Netanyahu does not violate the laws, but he does not respect the norms, the customs. This is what I call “Israeli democracy under test of Netanyahu” (2). An example: during an election period, the custom is that the Prime Minister does not go abroad and does not welcome foreign politicians in Israel. However, in the elections of recent years, Netanyahu met Trump and Putin in Israel or in their respective countries. Netanyahu’s power poses an ongoing challenge to institutions. It is not a dictatorship, or even a populist power, but it has put Israeli democracy under strain. Today, the question is to know if the departure of Bibi will be enough to restore these standards or if the damage is done durably. Not to mention that he will undoubtedly be a very devious Leader of the Opposition. “He will not withdraw, he will wait until the new government collapses to present himself as the savior. “
However, the new coalition envisaged must bring together parties of the left, the center and the right, whose only common point is that they are all “anti-Bibi”. In other words, this coalition without a common ideological line will undoubtedly be paralyzed for the major reforms desired by one or the other, such as the relations between religion and the State.
1. Denis Charbit, author of the book “Israël et ses paradoxes”, éditions du Cavalier bleu (2018).
2. Article published in the journal Politique Foreign, Sept 2020.
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