The change coalition

(Avigdor Lieberman, Preiss /MSC; Yair Lapid, Brookings Institution / Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0)

The eight unlikely parties in Israel’s change coalition reflect the political contortions elements of Israel’s ideological leadership are willing to endure in order to separate from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The coalition parties, and some of their leaders, deserve praise for checking many of their ambitions for what they believe to be an important national goal: making Israel governable again. We hope that objective will lead toward the finding of common ground to address serious national issues, without exploding the delicate coalition over inevitable ideological differences.

Much of the delicate work of governing will fall to Naftali Bennett, the ambitious 49-year-old leader of the settler hard-right, who is set to be a two-year prime minister under the coalition agreement. Bennett will likely play an important but not determinative role, since he will enter office with clipped wings — as he will only remain in power if he does not act on his highest calling: peopling Judea and Samaria with Jews and annexing the ancient Jewish heartland to Israel.

Instead, there are two other people who are likely to have a more significant impact on the success and survivability of the fragile bare-majority coalition.

First is the man who cajoled, compromised and built the extraordinary coalition: Yair Lapid, 57, the pragmatic centrist whose Yesh Atid party won the second-most seats in the most recent Knesset election. Lapid sits at the pivotal center of the coalition. As the architect of the complex agreements and arrangements, he will likely have responsibility for keeping things together when ideologies begin to conflict and political patience frays. The jury is out as to whether Lapid has the skills to navigate those kinds of issues. But by forgoing first dibs at the position of prime minister that should have otherwise been his due, Lapid showed statesmanship and humility that belies his reputation for being “superficial, embarrassing and arrogant,” as one critic described him.

Second is Avigdor Lieberman, 62, the secular ultranationalist head of a Russian immigrant party. Lieberman denied Netanyahu a governing majority in 2019, forcing Israel into the second of what became four inconclusive elections in two years. Now, as the likely finance minister, Lieberman will be responsible for the state budget, which has been on hold through the years of gridlock, and he will have a major role in shaping Israel’s post-pandemic economy. Once an ally of Netanyahu, Lieberman became an “Israeli refusenik” in the years after breaking with him.

In addition to the ideological contradictions of its eight parties, the coalition government will have to contend with an opposition led by Netanyahu, which will seek to chip away at the fragile bonds of the inherently fraught construct. Most pundits believe that the opposition effort will succeed — the only question being how long the improbable, unsustainable, contradictory coalition can last.

Regardless of how long the change coalition survives, its creation is the first step in what we hope will be Israel’s reemergence from gridlock and the shadow of dysfunction and corruption.

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