Now remind us again why Israel is going to hold new elections two years earlier than scheduled?
Of course we realize that few coalitions last the full four-year term. But with Israel facing so many critical issues — increasing violence from Palestinians, European governments advocating for a Palestinian state, troubling relations with the White House and Iran still bent on continuing its nuclear program — the dynamics that led to the collapse of the government appear to have little to do with the challenges listed here. It’s more about personalities and power than platforms, and more specifically about elected leaders in the same coalition who spent a great deal of time fighting each other from within.
Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been in office longer than any other Israeli prime minister except for David Ben-Gurion, seems confident that he will emerge on top after the new elections in the spring. It’s not that he is so popular — latest polls show him slipping from 50 percent approval to 38 percent — but Israeli voters see him as more fit for the position than those nipping at his heels, at least for now.
Much has been made of the current government’s slide to the right, amid worries that democratic ideals are at risk, most notably the concern that a proposed law would emphasize Israel’s Jewish characteristics over its democratic ones. But Netanyahu, a centrist within his coalition, has real concerns about being outflanked on his right from Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, and Naftali Bennett, the minister of economy, who champion the settlements and urge more muscular efforts to counter the Palestinians.
To Netanyahu’s left, neither Tzipi Livni of Hatunah, nor Isaac Herzog of Labor, appear to have sufficient political support to mount a serious challenge.
The government that was elected two years ago amid calls for societal change held much promise. There were so many fresh faces from different walks of life in the new Knesset. Front and center was Yair Lapid, a media personality and political novice, who shocked everyone by winning 19 seats for his new Yesh Atid party. But Netanyahu, in a wise move, made him finance minister and Lapid’s popularity plummeted during tough economic times.
Over the last decade the traditional right-left political divide over dealing with the Palestinians has been muted as a large majority of Israelis have come to believe that no secure peace can be achieved at this time. Issues over the economy, social equality, housing and the religious-secular divide have become more prominent.
The current coalition was unusual in that it had no charedi representation. It’s likely that will change in the next government. If so we can expect efforts to be stalled or reversed that involve drafting charedi yeshiva students, moving forward on the Women of the Wall accommodations and legislation that would reduce the clout of the Chief Rabbinate on personal status issues.
The dominant political mood in Israel today is frustration. Right now it is difficult to see that changing, even after the time, expense and drama of new elections.