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Bennett signals optimism but challenges remain for coalition

What happened: Following the passing of the 2021 and 2022 state budgets last week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held a joint press conference along with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman on Saturday night.

  • Prime Minister Bennett highlighted the passing of a budget for the next two years, saying it “completed the complex move of rescuing Israel from three years of instability”.
  • Bennett said: “We moved from unemployment to employment, from negative growth following a very difficult economic year due to the pandemic and the lockdowns, to impressive growth of over 7 per cent.”
  • The leadership troika has identified the government’s main priorities as economic stability, bringing down the cost of living and house prices, a war against organised crime, and improving public transportation.
  • According to Bennett, “The great test of this government, of all of us, is in showing restraint. If we succeed in resisting the temptation to quarrel and bicker, if we succeed in focusing on what unites us and not on what divides us, if we lay aside for a moment the rivalries between us … we will take the State of Israel, which is unlike any other country in the world, ten steps forward.”
  • The Likud issued a statement in response: “After getting Bennett and Lapid’s terrible budget passed – which will drive up prices, raise taxes and transfer tens of billions of shekels from Israeli citizens to the Islamic Movement – the chances that the government will collapse have increased.”

Context: The passing of the budget brings much needed political stability, with the threat of an imminent election off the agenda.

  • However, the split within the coalition on right- left issues has the potential to be divisive. Some of the challenging issues are:
    • The future of the Evyatar outpost, which was established earlier in the year following a terror attack at the adjacent Tapuach junction. The government promised to examine the ownership status of the land and to allow a yeshiva to be built there if it turns out the land is not privately owned. According to a survey conducted by the Civil Administration there are at least 14 acres of state land available at the site. However, Labour and Meretz leaders oppose implementing the agreement.
    • Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin (New Hope) is hoping to double the Israeli population in the Jordan Valley. Elkin sees strategic importance in increasing Israel’s presence, but Meretz and others are strongly against the move. Other building projects in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank will create similar tensions.
    • Labour is looking to change the Finance Ministry’s preferred communities list, removing more established West Bank settlements and instead prioritising communities in the periphery, Galilee, and the Negev.
    • The Citizenship bill that prevents family unification for Palestinians who are married to Israeli Arabs which has been renewed for the last 18 years, was defeated in the summer. Since then, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) has thousands of applications from Palestinians asking for Israeli citizenship. The left-wing parties and United Arab List are not inclined to support a renewal of the legislation.
  • There are other issues that face disagreements even within the right-wing partners:
    • Defence Minister Gantz, (Blue and White) has called for a state investigation into the (Netanyahu government’s) purchasing procedure of submarines from Germany.
    • Justice Minister Sa’ar (New Hope) is pushing for a bill that will create term-limits for prime ministers and prevent someone under criminal indictment from forming a government.
  • If supported by Yamina MKs, the possibility of rebuilding a future connection with the Likud could face irreparable damage.
  • In addition, there are a basket of issues regarding religion and state that could be difficult to find a consensus, including:
    • Implementing the arrangement that allows for non-Orthodox Jewish prayer at the Western Wall.
    • Reaching an agreement over the drafting of ultra-Orthodox men into the IDF.
    • Allowing public transportation to service secular Israelis on sabbath.

Looking ahead: Following the passing of the budget the government will now be judged on its implementation.

  • Later today the opposition’s Religious Zionist Party have called for a Knesset debate and vote on: “The Bennett-Abbas government is renewing the diplomatic process to divide the land and form a terror state in the heart of Israel.” As 40 opposition members have signed the motion, Prime Minister Bennett is required to attend.
  • The opposition face their own problems. In the weeks ahead the attorney general will reach a decision on the criminal cases of four senior members of the opposition: Aryeh Deri, the leader of Shas; Yaakov Litzman, leader of the United Torah Judaism; and two Likud MKs David Bitan and Haim Katz.
  • On Saturday night the Prime Minister was asked about the alternating agreement with Lapid, which Bennett said would be honoured. However, the closer we get to August 2023 (when Lapid is due to replace Bennett) the more pressure will increase on the right-wing members of the coalition not to conform.

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