With Israel’s budget passed, US policy could be the next big test for the Bennett government
Main challenges could stem from Biden administration’s policy towards Palestinians, political analysts say
Members of the Israeli government coalition breathed a collective sigh of relief at the start of the weekend.
In a move seen as a key victory for the Bennett-Lapid government, lawmakers passed a state budget ahead of the impending November 14 deadline.
The 2021-2022 budget was the first to be approved in more than three years, following a prolonged political stalemate that saw the country catapulted into a seemingly endless election cycle. Had it not been passed, Israel would have entered a fifth round of elections in about two years.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Saturday welcomed the decision, calling it the end of “three years of instability”.
Yet even with the first major obstacle behind Israel’s coalition government, which is made up of various parties from across the political and ideological spectrum, several important tests could disrupt its stability.
Dr Batia Siebzehner, an expert on Israeli politics and a researcher at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said the Biden administration’s pending decision on whether or not to open a consulate in East Jerusalem for the Palestinians could prove to be a pivotal moment for the coalition.
“The question is how far the Biden administration is willing to push,” Siebzehner told The Media Line. “They discuss the consulate in East Jerusalem, which could snowball [political] crisis.”
She added that: “The left-wing coalition parties – Meretz and Labor – will also be forced to decide whether they support or oppose this motion. “
There is pressure on Bennett within his own party and other coalition parties, as well as pressure from the Biden administration
Bennett and Lapid both presented a united front in their opposition to the reopening of the consulate and suggested instead that it be placed in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, the current seat of the Palestinian Authority. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, while Israel considers Jerusalem its indivisible capital.
US President Joe Biden has vowed to reopen the consulate in East Jerusalem, which was closed by former President Donald Trump in 2018 when the US embassy was moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but did not not yet given a specific date as to when this would occur.
Another obstacle the coalition faces is construction in West Bank settlements, according to Siebzehner. Last month, the Ministry of Construction and Housing announced that 1,300 new homes would be built in several West Bank settlements, also known as Judea and Samaria.
While Washington and a number of parties in the Bennett-Lapid government oppose further construction in Jewish settlements, the right-wing coalition parties – including Bennett’s Yamina party – have long demonstrated political in favor of the colonists.
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“There is pressure on Bennett within his own party and other coalition parties, as well as pressure from the Biden administration,” Siebzehner said.
Nonetheless, she added, “at this point neither party can afford to break with the coalition and risk Israel going to another election.”
Amir Oren, a senior Israeli political analyst, believes that now that a budget is no longer an issue, the government will do what it can to avoid taking risks.
“The coalition cannot really agree on a common policy and therefore there will be no initiatives,” Oren told The Media Line. “This means that the only way the country can move forward, for example in the peace process, is for someone else – namely the Biden administration – to take its own initiative so that the government has to react.”
As long as the glue that holds everyone together – mistrust of Netanyahu – is relevant, and as long as Netanyahu is still in the system, there is a chance the coalition can survive.
Professor Gideon Rahat, senior researcher at the Israel Institute of Democracy and professor of political science at the Hebrew University, believes that there is only one thing that holds the Bennett-Lapid government together: the former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who remains the leader of the opposition.
“As long as the glue that holds everyone together – mistrust of Netanyahu – is relevant, and as long as Netanyahu is still in the system, there is a chance that the coalition can survive,” Rahat told The Media Line. “Netanyahu played and played and played and in the end he shot himself in the foot. It created a situation in which Israel has been dragged over and over again to elections. “
Now that the initial hurdle in the form of the state budget has been overcome, ideological differences among coalition members are more likely to emerge.
“It’s not a simple government,” Rahat argued. “They are likely to come into conflict in this area; and I believe someone will try to turn on the fuse to make sure these conflicts arise.