Clock is ticking for Netanyahu’s non-unity government

Clock is ticking for Netanyahu’s non-unity government

Clock is ticking for Netanyahu’s non-unity government
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Reuters)
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For war Cabinet ministers Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot it was a matter of when, not if, they would quit Israel’s so-called unity government, and in doing so withdraw the support of 12 National Party members of the Knesset for the ruling coalition. There must be questions asked about the logic of their participation in the government in the first place, and certainly about their decision not to leave months ago when it became clear that Israel was sinking deeper into the quagmire of Gaza, failing to give the release of the hostages top priority, and becoming increasingly internationally isolated, while around the corner a full-scale war with Hezbollah was looming. Gantz and Eisenkot might have believed that they were acting as a counterbalance to the extreme right wing in government, but in fact, as time passed, all that they were doing was propping up the most disastrous leadership in Israel’s history.
Gantz’s “dramatic” announcement was delayed by 24 hours as a result of the operation last Saturday to release four Israeli hostages, but this did not dissuade him from the view that his eight-month partnership with Benjamin Netanyahu had run its course. Since Gantz sent his ultimatum to Netanyahu, it was obvious from the outset that his five demands would not be met, and the clock for the end of this partnership was ticking loudly. In truth, Gantz and his political colleagues were always looking to the exit door, and rightly so, but it does not lessen the deep concern that Israel is once again, as it was until last October, governed by the most far-right, incompetent, and irresponsible government since its founding, while it faces the most profound domestic and international crisis in its history.
The question on everyone’s lips is whether the departure of the National Unity party will bring the country one step closer to the end of the Netanyahu government and lead to a general election resulting in the long overdue end of the Netanyahu era. On the one hand the coalition must now rely on a much narrower support base of 64 members of the Knesset, a majority of only four, but they are in this sinking ship together, fully aware that they are highly unlikely to hold the reins of power after the next election, and that at the same time many of them will also lose their seats in the Israeli parliament. This might encourage them to prolong the life of this government for a little bit longer.
By all accounts, Sunday’s resignation was very much a delayed response and should have occurred earlier in the year, when Israel’s military had lost its momentum and most of the reserve units were discharged, which in turn hardened Hamas’ position on releasing the hostages, and led them to demand a full and permanent ceasefire, which has its own logic. At that stage Netanyahu was acting as if he were ready to agree to a truce, but he stepped back from this for fear of losing the support of the far-right elements in his coalition, and in the knowledge that ending the war would be followed by an investigation into the colossal security failure of Oct. 7 for which most would hold him personally responsible. So he began stalling the negotiations, but the longer this continued, Hamas, in this case the Gaza branch led by Yahya Sinwar, increasingly felt itself, rightly or wrongly, in the ascendency and able to dictate the outcome of the negotiations. 

When the era of Netanyahu and his cabal of far-right extremists comes to a close, it will be a case of good riddance.

Yossi Mekelberg

Partnership with the dangerous and delusional messianic far right was something that Netanyahu was not keen on to begin with, knowing their dangerous ideology and warmongering inclinations, not to mention their detachment from reality. However, in light of the other parties’ justified refusal to share power with a man being tried on corruption charges and hellbent on destroying the independence of the judiciary in order to avoid a potential jail sentence, he had a choice: Show integrity and relinquish power, or form a coalition with the most extreme elements in Israeli society. And, guess what, he preferred the latter. The events on and since Oct. 7 have exposed the inability of such a government to defend its citizens from external threats and conduct a war with any long-term strategy in mind. Gantz in his resignation speech amplified what Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said several weeks ago — that the Israeli leader has deliberately avoided any “day after” plan in order to serve his own political and personal interests. This is an intolerable situation that is creating immense misery and costing the lives of many thousands of people.
The cynical nature of the slimmed-down coalition was revealed less than 24 hours after the National Unity party departed during a vote on drafting ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students for military service. Shamelessly, the very coalition government that is pushing an agenda of never-ending wars — and some of whose members would like to reoccupy Gaza and build settlements there, not to mention engage in a full-scale war with Hezbollah — supported a bill that continued the unfair and immoral arrangement that ultra-Orthodox youth are not obliged to serve in the military. There is hardly anything that irks those who serve in the security forces more than the fact that parliamentarians who are asking them to risk their lives on the battlefield are happy to do so when it is someone else’s daughter or son and not their own.
A bigger test for this government will come when supporting a ceasefire deal with Hamas becomes a genuine option. The leaders of the far right are behaving in an increasingly vile manner toward families of the hostages for demanding a deal that would see their loved ones returned, and are threatening to leave the coalition if such an agreement is reached. But, then, such a deal is likely to be supported by several opposition parties even without the Ben Gvirs and Smotritches of this coalition, who are strong in neither the empathy or strategy departments, and will then have to decide whether to stay in government.
Gantz’s resignation has not instantly brought the government down, but has sown the seeds for its fall. Netanyahu’s coalition is on life support, and ordinary Israelis are continuing to demonstrate their lack of confidence in it, whether in opinion polls or on the streets. At some point it is either bottom-up pressure from the people that will bring the government down, or pressure from the international community that will do the same — but it is more likely to be a combination of the two. However, when the era of Netanyahu and his cabal of far-right extremists comes to a close, it will be a case of good riddance.

Yossi Mekelberg is a professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the Middle East and North Africa Program at international affairs think tank Chatham House.
X: @YMekelberg 

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