Collapse of Israel coalition presents opportunity for irrepressible Benjamin Netanyahu

The era of Benjamin Netanyahu seemed to come to an end last summer.

But the hawkish former prime minister of Israel — long a thorn in the side of President Biden, Barack Obama and other Democrats who support diplomacy with Iran’s anti-Israeli theocratic regime — has seen a dramatic shakeup in Israeli politics following a stunning shakeup in Israeli politics. A real chance to get back in power. This week saw the country hold its fifth election in just three years.

Regional analysts said it was no accident that Israel’s anti-Netanyahu coalition quickly collapsed on Monday. Mr. Netanyahu, 72, who led Israel again from 1996 to 1999 and 2009 to June 2021, has fanatically incited behind the scenes against Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and undermined the unity of the The eight-party coalition is in power almost entirely because it wants to oust Mr Netanyahu.

It’s the latest example of what observers say is Netanyahu’s unparalleled political skills and unrivaled understanding of his country’s sentiments, traits that have seen him endure electoral setbacks and personal scandals over the past few decades. would have sunk a less determined competitor long ago.

“He just defeated the current administration. His strategy was to strip away coalition members and erode it seat by seat. He did it,” said Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a leading Washington think tank. Say.

“No one knows more about Israeli politics. They say some people play checkers, some people play chess. He plays 3D chess while dealing with the Israeli political system,” Mr. Schanzer said.

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Mr. Bennett, a former aide to Mr. Netanyahu, announced on Monday that he would dissolve parliament after several leading lawmakers withdrew their support for the government. New elections are tentatively scheduled for October. Bennett’s key ally, Foreign Minister Yar Rapid, will serve as caretaker prime minister until the election.

reset agenda

The timing of Israel’s latest leadership struggle — the past four elections have yet to yield a viable majority for any major faction — has created some awkward and uncomfortable moments in the days ahead.

As the country’s interim leader, Mr Rapide is expected to meet Mr Biden next month during the US president’s long-awaited visit to Israel. That meeting came at a critical time in U.S.-Israel relations, as the Biden administration is negotiating with Iran to reach a new deal to limit Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Mr. Bennett has been an outspoken critic of those talks, but his opposition — at least from a public relations standpoint — pales in comparison to Mr. Netanyahu. Warned that this would endanger Israel and the wider Middle East.

His most famous attack came in an unprecedented 2015 speech to the U.S. Congress attacking U.S. policy at the invitation of Republicans who now control the House of Representatives.

In 2018, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed a series of draconian sanctions. Mr Biden’s State Department, led by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Iran’s special envoy Robert Marley, is now trying to revive the deal, despite stalled talks in recent months.

Another Netanyahu term will add new public pressure to the Biden administration and its diplomatic engagement with Iran, although analysts stress that no matter who takes over as the next prime minister, opposition to a new nuclear deal will remain dominated by Israel political standpoint.

The leadership shakeup could also complicate other policy priorities of the Biden administration. The White House has been working to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which will have huge ramifications for Middle Eastern politics and represent the end of decades of hostile relations between the two countries.

Such an agreement would build on the Trump-era Abraham Accord, which ended the Jewish state’s historical isolation in the Arab world by normalizing relations with the United Arab Emirates. Israel also normalized relations with Bahrain and Morocco in 2020.

A thaw in ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia is expected to be at the top of the agenda when Mr Biden visits Israel next month, but it is unclear whether that will change given the new political realities.

“There seems to be some movement on the Saudi-Israeli normalization front. It’s not clear if the Biden administration is willing to take any major steps, or if the Saudis are willing to take any major steps, given the upheaval going on in Israel,” said Mr. Shanzer.

“Political Trust”

For Mr Netanyahu, there is still a lot of work to be done in order to be re-elected as prime minister. Political observers point to no sign that the former prime minister can overcome the kind of impasse that doomed his government last spring and summer.

Although he denied any wrongdoing, he was also tried for corruption. Some Israeli lawmakers have reportedly discussed passing new laws barring the indicted politician from being prime minister, which would legally end his prospects.

Even some members of the former Netanyahu-led government, such as Defense Secretary Benny Gantz, have said they would oppose his campaign.

“Honestly, in pain and grief, I say he has exhausted the political trust that can be given to him,” Mr Gantz said on Monday.

For liberal Israelis, the prospect of Netanyahu returning to power has sparked something akin to US Democrats’ idea of ​​Mr Trump (closer to Mr Netanyahu) taking the White House back in 2024. feelings expressed.

“The upcoming elections will be the last decisive battle for the state of Israel,” wrote Ben Caspit, a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Maariv. “One corner will be Israel’s image as a democracy in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. Another corner will be the cult of Netanyahu and Bibiism. The defeated side may never recover.”

But Mr Netanyahu is banking on the fact that Israeli voters, after a shaky Naftali coalition for a year, will again conclude that his more direct style is best suited to lead the country.

In a blistering statement on Monday, Mr Netanyahu took aim directly at the coalition, which spans an ideological spectrum, including Israeli Arabs and conservative Israeli factions that strongly support Palestinian-claimed land the settler movement.

The coalition lasted a year, longer than many expected, and managed to pass a politically difficult budget, but its one-vote majority in parliament has made it always vulnerable to defections.

“After a year of determined struggle by the Knesset opposition and the tremendous suffering of the Israeli public, it is clear to all that the worst government in Israel’s history is over,” Mr Netanyahu said in a statement, Netanyahu said in a statement. Mr Yahu said in a statement. Times of Israel.

“A government that has relied on sponsors of terrorism, has given up the physical safety of Israeli citizens, raised the cost of living to unprecedented heights, imposed unnecessary taxes and endangered the Jewish character of our country, this government is going home,” he said. .

The coalition government, with its odd compatriots and many competing political priorities and positions, has been showing signs of stress for months.

“If they bring the government together, it looks like a thousand dollars off,” Mr Shanzer said.

The final blow came when Mr Bennett could not get enough votes to extend certain legal rights to Jewish settlers in the West Bank, such as their right to Israeli health insurance. Supporters of Mr Netanyahu, while supporting the policy, voted against the measure to embarrass the government.

With the dissolution of the government, these rights will automatically continue until the new government is formed.

“Israel will suffer severe security breaches and constitutional chaos” without extending those rights, Bennett said on Monday, explaining his decision to step down and pave the way for new elections.

“This is something I cannot allow,” he said.

— This article is based in part on Telegram service reports.

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