Netanyahu’s Netanyahus take charge in Israel

The party leaders of the Israeli coalition government in waiting (AFP)

Marwan Bishara

Al-Jazeera  /  June 3, 2021

Don’t expect the coalition formed by the outgoing prime minister’s disgruntled minions to lead to much change in an already dreadful state of affairs.

Israel’s prospective “change government” is a coalition of unlikely partners with only one goal in mind – changing the country’s prime minister. But will ousting Benjamin Netanyahu from power lead to positive change in Israel, or for that matter Palestine?

The long journey that led to the formation of this motley coalition, including four national elections and tough protracted negotiations, has demonstrated that in a confident and prosperous Israel, personal ambition trumps politics, and politicking outweighs ideology.

In fact, it was Netanyahu who first revealed unrestrained willingness to pursue any and all paths to further his personal ambitions and interests. It was he, after demonizing any cooperation attempt with Palestinian Arab parties as un-Zionist, who pursued a coalition agreement with the United Arab List [Ra’am] to preserve his premiership. And it was he who helped organize and legitimize the most openly racist elements in the Israeli society, ensuring they pass the threshold and enter the Knesset.

But Netanyahu “the magician” seems to have lost his magic. He has gone too far, lied too much, and stepped over too many associates to stay on top.

Indeed, nothing explains the formation of this new coalition of political extremes better than animosity – the animosity of political leaders exacting revenge against the man who once and again deceived or outright burned them.

Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman, the prospective prime minister and finance minister, respectively, have both previously served as Netanyahu’s chiefs of staff. Gideon Sa’ar, the prospective justice minister, was once his cabinet secretary. Even Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, who are spearheading the coalition effort to oust Netanyahu from office, have both been ministers in his cabinet in the past.

But the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. After years of feeding on his minions like a scorpion, Netanyahu’s offspring are out to devour him in a twisted ritual of political Matriphagy.

Once Netanyahu is neutralized and unable to mount a comeback, the “change government” will, for all practical purposes, lose its raison d’être.

The coalition partners have merely agreed to disagree on the big issues, and are unlikely to agree to any consequential policy change, let alone a new national agenda, transformative or even transitional.

Expect instead lots of political wrangling on major changes to the welfare state, for example.

Lieberman, the prospective hardcore secular nationalist finance minister, may insist on shifting budgets away from the religious parties’ associated schools and institutions.

Whether Prime Minister Bennett, himself a religious orthodox Jew, will opt to block any such moves or encourage them in order to weaken his competitors among the other religious parties, remains to be seen.

But Bennett won’t be able to make any sudden or extreme moves on more consequential issues, such as settlement expansion or annexation, without risking a coalition implosion.

With a majority of no more than 62 out of 120 parliament seats, any defection by any displeased eccentric could lead to the undoing of the “change government”.

It is therefore anyone’s guess how this evolves or rather devolves in the coming days and weeks. But if you thought it couldn’t get any worse than Netanyahu, think again.

Bennett, the former leader of a prominent settler group and a fanatic whack who prides himself on killing Arabs, has even fewer scruples than Netanyahu.

Paradoxically, his party failed even to cross the threshold necessary to have any seats in the Knesset in the April 2019 elections.

Now he is destined to become prime minister.

Go figure.

True to form, the political establishment spiders and scorpions will soon be at it again, if or when Likud decides to depose the criminally indicted Netanyahu from the party leadership, especially now that he is officially on trial on serious charges of corruption and fraud and could very well end up in prison.

Such development is sure to open the way for different, more coherent coalition possibilities for the right and far-right parties that make up the majority in the Knesset.

The first thing these parties will do is to throw the “overly pragmatic” United Arab List under the bus.

The United Arab List hopes that its support for the government, which oppresses its own people on the other side of the Green Line, may win it some financial crumbs, but once Netanyahu is gone, the Israeli right is sure to coalesce once again without it.

Despite its preoccupation with personal political vendettas and its media’s preoccupation with the political circus, Israel has in fact been consistently moving further to the right for years.

Today, the hardcore right-wing Likud party maintains some 30 seats in parliament while the presumably “centrist” Labor party, which governed Israel over three decades, is a mere political footnote.

For the past several decades, both establishment parties have given birth to a variety of extremist parties that support illegal settlement expansion and annexation, and fundamentally oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state.

These parties are indispensable for any future coalition government – without them, no major political party can govern.

In short, don’t expect the “change government” to lead to much change in an already dreadful state of affairs. But expect the inevitable changing of the “change government” to produce more of the same, but worse.

Netanyahu may be finished, but short of a miracle, Netanyahu’s Netanyahus are here to stay.

Marwan BisharaSenior political analyst at Al-Jazeera