LIVNI: There are some issues that they cannot agree upon, and therefore, what they decided is to try to work together in order to heal Israel’s economy, to deal with the aspects needed after COVID. I hope that they will heal also Israel’s democracy. It’s clear that when it comes to what Israel needs to do regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there are huge gaps. And these are not the only the only gaps that you can find within the government. It’s about the rise of LGBT; it’s about different meanings of equality. It’s different parties with different agendas and different platforms that decided to join together in order to beat Netanyahu and to take him out of office.
DANIN: What it means is that the range of issues that the new government can address will be extremely limited and circumscribed. This is a government in which it will be impossible to reach agreement or form coherent policies on a number of very critical issues. First and foremost, Israel’s relationship to the Palestinians: You’ll have a prime minister who advocates annexing the West Bank. And at the same time, you have, sitting in the government, parties that are adamantly opposed to that. So what that means is this government will be unable to formulate a policy on that issue. And there will be a number of other issues that it will be unable to formulate policies on because there’s just too much structural division. In many ways, it will be a caretaker government. It will be one that will be unable to initiate dramatic change, especially when it comes to Israel’s existential conflict with the Palestinians.
First and foremost, this government came into being with one fundamental objective, and that was to remove Benjamin Netanyahu. It will do that. Then the question will be: for how long and will Netanyahu not return? Beyond that, this government aims to restore and to re-empower the institutions of Israeli governance, and to revitalize Israel’s democratic institutions. So, a lot of it will have to do more with addressing governance processes than outcomes. That said, what ultimately brought down the current Israeli government was its inability to pass a budget. Israel has not had a budget now for a few years. That’s the kind of issue that will be challenging for any government, especially such a diverse one. So one could imagine that the budgetary issues will form a large challenge for the new government.
A second issue will be what happens if violence erupts, or if Hamas initiates violence from Gaza into Israel, and this government then finds itself in active conflict? That could put a real strain on the coalition government. I think the biggest challenge to the government is going to be the following: The new prime minister, Bennett, is avowedly a very right-wing leader. Ideologically, he is further to the right than Netanyahu. His biggest political challenges come from within his own party and from his own constituents. And this same constituency challenge also exists for Mansour Abbas [of the Islamist United Arab List] heading into this government, and even some of the left-wing parties. So the biggest challenges could come from within their own constituents who feel that their representatives, or their leaders in this government, are just too compromising. Netanyahu understands this. Given that this coalition is going to be so diverse but with a thin governing majority, it won’t take many defections to bring it down. The leader of the opposition is going to be Netanyahu, who’s going to attack this government from the right. So he’ll be attacking a right-wing prime minister for not being right-wing enough, and for having made too many compromises with the left, which is a dirty word in Israeli politics. Bennett is then going to have to answer to the right — his own constituents — and explain to them what he is delivering to them by being in bed with the left with an Arab Islamic party. So he’s going to be vulnerable from Day One, and Netanyahu is going to hammer away at this.
GAZETTE: As foreign minister, you oversaw negotiations with the Palestinians. How would this new government affect the prospect for real movement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
LIVNI: It is clear that they will try not to touch it. But the real question is whether the statement is sustainable or not. This is something that we’ll find out in the future.
GAZETTE: As leader of the opposition, could that perhaps even help put Netanyahu back in power given how narrow and frail the coalition is already, and how much Netanyahu enjoys playing the role of renegade or outsider?
DANIN: Absolutely. Netanyahu was successful and able to gain power and maintain power as the outsider candidate. That’s how he branded himself throughout his political career, as the voice of the marginalized and the outsiders, with the Sephardim or those of the poorer economic classes, never mind that he himself comes from none of that. So, yes, he will be very well-positioned to mobilize opposition from the outside, populist opposition. There’s a lot of concern in Israel about increased political violence. Already, the security for a number of the would-be members of this government has been stepped up. So the potential for populist violence exists. We saw it last month. And yes, Netanyahu, has won elections that way in the past, and he will be well-positioned to do so. And let’s not forget the context: Netanyahu desperately wants to be prime minister. Here’s a man who is in the midst of a trial with three major indictments for corruption that could send him to jail for a long time. So he’s not only fighting for his political survival, he’s fighting for his personal survival. There are no incentives for him to exert moderation and every incentive for him to attack and mobilize from the right, from the street, against the government for being too compromising, for being too accommodationist.
GAZETTE: How would Netanyahu’s ouster affect his legal troubles?