Challenges already await new Bennett-Lapid government

What happened: Israeli MKs yesterday voted for a new government by the slimmest majority of 60 votes to 59. Yamina leader Naftali Bennett is the new prime minister replacing Benjamin Netanyahu, who had been in the role since 2009.

  • For the first time an Israeli government is supported by an Arab party – the United Arab List (UAL). However, only three of their four MKs voted in favour, with MK Said al-Harumi abstaining.
  • Following the vote, Prime Minister Bennett convened his first cabinet meeting and told his new ministers: “Now we must prove ourselves, and work together in unity and cooperation to mend the rift among the public and return the state to proper governance after debilitation brought by internal squabbles.”
  • Yair Lapid, who will serve as foreign minister and alternate prime minister, added: “What formed this government is friendship and trust, and what is going to maintain this government will be friendship and trust.”
  • Prior to the vote Bennett addressed the Knesset and was constantly heckled and disturbed by members of the outgoing government. Several parliamentarians were subsequently removed from the chamber.
  • In a more positive display, the Knesset then elected Mickey Levy from Yesh Atid as the new speaker of the Knesset, who was warmly embraced by his predecessor and received congratulatory messages from government and opposition members alike.
  • Adding to the drama, the new government relied on Labour MK Emilie Moatti’s vote after she arrived from the hospital in an ambulance, lying on a stretcher due to a spinal illness. Knesset Speaker Levy refrained from giving a speech to allow her to return to hospital as quicky as possible.
  • The new government has already received congratulations from across the word. US President Biden said he “looks forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations. Israel has no better friend than the United States. The bond that unites our people is evidence of our shared values and decades of close cooperation and as we continue to strengthen our partnership, the United States remains unwavering in its support for Israel’s security.”
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “This is an exciting time for the UK & Israel to continue working together to advance peace & prosperity for all.”

Context: The new government is Israel’s most ideologically diverse and pluralistic; it will include eight parties: two centrist, three right-wing, two left-wing, and one Islamic.     

  • The new government will have 28 ministers and six deputy ministers. For the first time in Israel’s history an Arab party will be included in the coalition.
  • For only the second time, there will be an Arab minister, as Issawi Frej from Meretz will serve as minister for regional cooperation. Mansour Abbas, the leader of UAL, is expected to become a deputy minister.
  • There is also a record high of nine women who will serve as ministers, including Labour Party leader Merav Michaeli as Transportation Minster, Yifat Shasha-Biton from New Hope as the Minister of Education, and Ayelet Shaked, from Yamina, who will serve as Interior Minister.
  • The government will be based on a parity between Bennett’s camp and Lapid’s camp. There will be 12 ministers in the security cabinet: six from each camp.
  • The new government has committed to pass a two-year budget within 145 days. To do this they will need a 61-vote majority, that they did not have yesterday.
  • Prime Minister Bennett said the coalition agreements “bring to an end two and a half years of political stalemate. We face immense challenges and the eyes of all Israelis are watching us with hope. The government will work for the entire Israeli public — religious and secular, Haredim, Arabs — with no exceptions. We will work together, with a feeling a partnership and national responsibility, and I believe we will succeed”.
  • The government has commitment to establish a state commission of inquiry into the Meron disaster, that saw 45 people crushed to death.
  • The new government’s priorities will be to build new hospitals in the Negev and Galilee regions, another airport and a university in the Galilee, and to push forward a national project for strengthening and developing northern Israel.
  • The status quo on state and religion will be maintained. However, the government will create competition in the field of kosher food certification. It will also move to alter the election process for the chief rabbinate to allow for a religious Zionist rabbi to be elected, which in turn could allow city rabbis to oversee conversions to Judaism.

Looking ahead: This afternoon Prime Minister Bennett will enter the prime minister’s office and hold a meeting to transfer power from Netanyahu. However, unlike in the past there will be no ceremony.

  • Over the next few days the Netanyahu family is expected to leave the official residence on Balfour Street. Prime Minister Bennett is not expected to immediately relocate, preferring to remain in his private family home in Ra’anana.
  • Despite focusing on consensual issues there is a range of controversial issues that the new government will soon need to make decisions:
    • Whether or in what format to allow the right-wing to hold their march of the flags rally through the old city of Jerusalem tomorrow.
    • Will they allow the Qatari government to continue to bring millions of dollars of cash in suitcases into the Gaza Strip.
    • What to do about the newly formed illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar, whilst at the same time legalising Bedouin villages in the south.
    • The new government will also need to weigh in on the potential evictions of Arab Jerusalemites in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

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