Delphine Matthieussent, AFP
Last updated: 19 March, 2013

Inner strife over Palestinians to weaken Israeli government

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, which was elected on a socio-economic ticket, is likely to be weakened by sharply opposing views on how to tackle ties with the Palestinians.

The new coalition, which was sworn in on Monday evening, is made up of four factions — Netanyahu’s hawkish Likud-Beitenu, the centrist Yesh Atid, the far-right Jewish Home and centre-right HaTnuah party.

During almost six weeks of tortuous coalition negotiations, Yesh Atid led by former TV anchor Yair Lapid formed a close alliance with Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home, with the two newcomers keen on pushing through major economic and social reforms.

Together, they count for 31 of the Knesset’s 120 seats — the same number as Likud-Beitenu — which is likely to reduce Netanyahu’s room for manoeuvre within parliament.

Yesh Atid and Jewish Home have pledged to push through new legislation which would compel ultra-Orthodox Jews to serve in the army, to reform the system of government, to lower the tax burden on the middle classes and to address a chronic housing shortage.

“From a socio-economic point of view, we are the only party,” Bennett was reported as saying at the weekend, referring to the two parties’ alliance.

Referring to the lack of ultra-Orthodox parties, commentator Ben-Dror Yemini wrote in daily Maariv: “This time, for the first time in many years, the coalition is not a minoritocracy. This coalition represents the majority, too.

“The potential, I must admit, is revolutionary,” he wrote.

“The bizarre, surprising alliance between Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett held fast… They promised new politics. At least in the meanwhile, they’re providing it.”

But despite their common socio-economic agenda and fresh style which saw both using social networks to appeal to young voters, the differences between Yesh Atid and Jewish Home are likely to emerge over the Palestinian issue.

Although Bennett, a 40-year-old former software engineer who has managed to successfully reinvent national-religious Judaism, his core support comes from Jewish settlers and their supporters, who adamantly oppose the creation of a Palestinian state.

By contrast, Lapid made a return to peace talks part of his campaign platform and vowed he would not join a government which would not negotiate, although he opposes a division of Jerusalem and has said he was looking for a workable “divorce” from the Palestinians rather than “a happy marriage”.

“Within a few months, it will seem strange that social issues were the main issues of the day,” said Raviv Drucker, political analyst for Israel’s Channel 10 television.

“As usual here, diplomatic and security questions will resurface with the potential to bring down the government.

“Lapid and Bennett, even with their will to cooperate and their fear-tinged hatred of Netanyahu, will not be able to get along when the real problems are on the table,” he said.

Speculation is also rife about the anticipated life span of the new cabinet in a country where, due to the system of proportional representation, coalitions which see out their four-year mandates are a rare breed.

But, given the rightwing bent of the government and the strong showing of pro-settlement ministers in it, the prospect of a revival of peace talks with the Palestinians seems unlikely, meaning that for the moment, the pact between Yesh Atid and Jewish Home remains strong.

“The new government has no ambitions on the Palestinian front. At best, it will manage the conflict while trying to preserve the calm,” predicted Chico Menashe, political commentator for public radio.