Israel’s recent deadly skirmishes with Islamic Jihad ― known as Operation Shield and Arrow ― have been driven by very real security concerns. At the same time, the defense effort supported by Iron Dome and the offensive pursuit of precision targeting of terror leaders and facilities have provided a meaningful political boost for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Because of the rocket attacks on Israel, many of the mass street protests against the government and its planned judicial overhaul that have energized the opposition were canceled, thereby providing a reprieve for the prime minister. That was followed by even more good news for Netanyahu when new polling reflected voter trust in Netanyahu to protect the country’s security, even as his personal popularity has fallen.
Things looked very different just a couple of weeks ago. Early May polls indicated that if an election had been held then, the right-wing governing coalition would have lost its majority in the Knesset. The polls predicted that Netanyahu’s Likud party would fall from 34 to 24 seats and be replaced by former Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s center-right National Unity party as the country’s largest party, with 29 seats. Those polls projected that the current opposition parties would win a combined 63 seats, a majority, with Gantz as the likely choice to head the government. The revival of Israel’s center-left, and the growing popularity of the opposition, reflect the impressive success of the orchestrated opposition to Israel’s most extreme right-wing government in its history, and alarm over the government’s promised policies. That success was helped by the impatient aggressiveness of right-wing leaders and their overreach in rushing to enact legislation to accomplish their goals all at once, rather than doing so more patiently. Had they moved incrementally — even if gradually toward their goals ― the level of opposition and concern would likely not have been as intense.
At least as of now, Israel’s right-wing leaders have failed to deliver on their promises. The vaunted judicial “reforms” have not gone past a first vote in the Knesset. Extremist National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has been visible and vocal but has largely been sidelined by Netanyahu in government decisions. And the haredi Orthodox parties have seen no progress in their coalition demands to exempt their schools from teaching math, science and English or their effort to exempt haredi men from military service.
All of this will almost certainly come to a head in the next couple of weeks as all eyes focus on the Knesset’s budget vote at the end of this month. By law, a failure to pass the budget would bring down the Netanyahu government and force new elections. That will not happen. With knowledge of the early May polling results no one in the current majority wants to risk new elections. Yet Ben-Gvir and haredi leaders have threatened to use the budget vote to gain leverage against Netanyahu. They will fail.
Netanyahu has decades of experience in the blood sport of Israeli politics. He knows the game better than anyone else and is a master of political manipulation and orchestration. He will do what it takes to remain in power. And he will drag his coalition partners with him. ■