Challenges Facing New Israeli Govt

Extent to Which Government Will Address Challenges Proves its Resilience
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks as he chairs the first weekly cabinet meeting of the new government in Jerusalem, on June 20, 2021. (Getty)

Tel Aviv- Since the Bennett-Lapid coalition government was sworn in, security and political circles have been busy developing work strategies that would enable them to address the new situation in Israel.

This government is considered the first in Israel since 1948, in terms of its political composition, to include a coalition of parties from far-right to left.

It assumed its duties amid internal, global and regional political and economic crises, forcing it to face major challenges that many doubt it will be able to address, in light of differences in opinion, position, and even principles and ideology among its coalition parties.

The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, which includes an elite group of security and military experts and former diplomats, has been busy conducting research and studies on the new era Israel is entering 12 years after former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s term, who drew a right-wing road map for Israel.

It wasn’t easy to put an end to his term, and it will be difficult for the new government to carry out major changes on the right-wing policy that left behind deep marks in various aspects of life in the country.

Certainly, the greatest challenge faced by this government is the absence of an updated budget, which has accumulated many outstanding issues. The prolonged political stalemate has left Israel still using a pro-rated version of a base 2019 budget that was ratified in mid-2018. It also failed to implement operational plans in the security, political, military, economic and social aspects.

These two major failures will have repercussions on the current government’s ability to manage foreign policy, thus leading to serious gaps in the face of the various security and strategic challenges facing Israel.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (2ndL) meets Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (R) in Rome, on June 27, 2021. Israel's new foreign minister in his first meeting with the United States voiced concern on June 27, 2021 about talks on Iran but pledged a more cooperative approach with the Jewish state's closest ally. (Getty)

Immediate Major Challenges

The INSS conducted a study that highlighted challenges that the authors believed require an immediate and deliberate action by the new government.

First: Nuclear Deal is Archimedean Point

US-Israeli relations constitute the first challenge facing Bennet-Lapid’s coalition government.

Since its formation, the new Israeli government has faced an unexpected challenge in Gaza Strip, during and after the Flag March that took place in the Old City of Jerusalem. The anger accumulated from the military operation ‘Guardian of the Walls’ (the Israeli name for the recent aggression on Gaza), which was carried out by Netanyahu’s government at the end of its term, could still be stirred.

Former security officials said the operation has demonstrated Israel’s critical need of American support politically and militarily and utmost coordination with the US administration in much wider contexts than the fighting in Gaza.

“The escalation has revealed the increasing weight of the critical attitude toward Israel among the younger ranks of the Democratic Party and its constituency, as well as American Jewry, and even in its most prominent stronghold of support – US Congress,” the officials explained.

“This is a harsh and ongoing blow to Israel’s status as a bipartisan consensus - one of its most significant assets in the United States, our greatest ally,” they added, warning against moving forward with the previous policy, especially with regard to the Iranian nuclear file.

According to the think tank, Netanyahu was in conflict with the administration over the latter’s intention to return to the nuclear deal with Iran.

“This battle is futile because it conflicts with Washington’s global strategic agenda, which seeks to secure its flanks and turn its attention to the struggle over supremacy against China.”

The Institute further said the Iranian challenge and return to the JCPOA have become an Archimedean point between Israel and the US that could reflect negatively on the overall relations between the two allies.

 “Thus, Israel’s ability to receive US support and the guarantees it requires may be impeded both with respect to Iran and in a wide range of other arenas.”

Regarding US relations with China, the study said that Israeli ties and policies vis à vis China could exclude it from the international front the US is pursuing. Washington has been clear in its messages to Israel, some of which were delivered publicly, voicing its concern about the level of its oversight on Chinese investments, particularly in the technological sector, which place American interests at risk.

“The US administration regards victory over China as a historical, almost religious task it is determined to complete.”

“It is perceiving the competition with China as a struggle for world order, liberty, and the supremacy of the democratic system,” the study stated.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People on March 20, 2017 in Beijing, China. (Getty)

Dismantling the Mine

The Institute urged the Israeli government to “dismantle the mine” and defuse tension with Washington regarding Iran.

According to the recommendations:

  • It must restore trust with the Biden administration by shifting from a loud confrontational diplomacy to a quiet intimate dialogue based on a shared view that Iran must not be allowed to have nuclear weapons, while relying on the effective collaboration channels between the two countries in areas such as intelligence, defense and operations.
  • The Israeli government should remove all indications of its intention to take military action against Iran’s nuclear program from its agenda, for such a step makes no sense at present, when a potential return to the nuclear deal is expected to roll Iran’s nuclear capabilities back in the upcoming years.
     
  • The Bennett-Lapid government should enter a shared strategic coordination as well as a quid pro quo dialogue of guarantees with the Biden administration in case the latter is unable to achieve its declared goal of reaching a future stronger and longer agreement with Iran.

In the Chinese context, Israel has profound interest in the US winning the race with China and must be incorporated into the democratic states front being established by the US, including its technology aspects (where Israel brings real assets to the table).

The institute called on decision makers in Israel to make a strategic decision that fully supports American interests vis à vis China, while conducting itself in full coordination, cooperation and transparency with the US administration on all aspects associated with Israel’s relations with China.

Second: Budget and Multi-Annual Plan

Two of the top strategic processes in Israel, outlining its long-term path, priorities and updated policies in the face of a changing reality have been shut down in recent years: the state budget and the Israeli army’s multi-annual plan.

In the absence of a forward-facing budget, Israel was left with no organized response and priorities for the unprecedented socio-economic crisis, a growing deficit and no ability to bridge the severe gaps in the home front’s preparedness for emergencies in both health and security contexts.

According to Israelis, with no budget, the army’s capability to implement its multi-annual plan was damaged, compromising its ability to develop responses and capabilities required to address evolving security challenges.

The Institute recommended that the government form a budget immediately to address the changing reality and challenges.

“Both the cabinet and the army must recalibrate and adjust the army’s multi-annual plan, Tnufa (Momentum), and close severe gaps in the home front’s preparedness for war.” While doing so, priorities must be redefined and objectives adapted to the new circumstances.

Israeli security forces fire tear gas as Palestinian protesters and activists flee, near an Israeli Police checkpoint at the entrance of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem, during a rally demanding the reopening of the roadblock, on May 29, 2021. (Getty)

Palestinian Arena

The issue with Palestine constitutes a difficult challenge for the Israeli government in light of the various internal, Palestinian and Arab complications, faced by remnants of the previous government’s policy.

“The Israeli strategy has failed. The perception whereby recognizing Hamas’ rule while improving the civil conditions in the Gaza Strip on the one hand, and weakening the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank on the other, will prevent a  two-state solution while maintaining a security equilibrium - has collapsed,” the Institute explained.

The escalation in Gaza has demonstrated that, when tested, Hamas’ ideological-religious agenda supersedes all other considerations it may have, it added.

By contrast, the study authors said due to Israel’s policy, the PA is getting weaker, so much so that it may gradually force Israel to begin managing the life of the Palestinian population.

It urged Israel to reverse its priorities vis à vis the Palestinian system.

“It should contain and weaken Hamas without compromising on improving the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip, as they are in Israel’s best interest.”

Meanwhile, it must “fundamentally change its attitude toward the PA, which represents the political alternative to the resolution of the conflict, and should be strengthened in every way as a governing system.”

Moreover, Israel should strive to build the PA as an alternative to Hamas' rule in Gaza in the longer term.

 

Jordan and Importance of its Stability

The new government assumed its duties amid deteriorating relations with Jordan that reached a peak in the wake of the Al-Aqsa events and operation “Guardian of the Walls.”

The Institute warned Israel of the repercussions of the previous government’s policy. It said the government has taken steps in recent years, such as the annexation plan, water quotas dispute, conflicts over Jerusalem and Jordan’s (founded) concern about an erosion in its status in the sacred sites that have had a detrimental effect on Israel’s relations with the kingdom, undermining the peace accord with it.

The Israeli government must restore its relations with Jordan and take actions in both regional and international arenas to garner assistance for strengthening the kingdom’s internal stability, the Institute said.

“It is crucial to strengthen Jordan's role in preserving and deepening the status quo in the holy sites in Jerusalem, and, as a rule, to avoid demeaning steps that could prove to be destructive to the King of Jordan’s status and his kingdom's stability” (which would thus harm Israel’s strategic background).

Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel: a Ticking Time Bomb

The new Israeli government was formed amidst the deteriorating relations between Jews and Arabs in the wake of the operation Guardian of the Walls and the intensified confrontations between Arab population, known as Palestinians of 1948, and Israeli Jews, especially right-wing and settlers.

This came in light of the protests by the Palestinians of 1948 inside their towns against the bombing of Gaza and in solidarity with their Palestinian brothers.

During this period, the rift between Arabs and Jews widened in cities such as Lydda, Ramleh, Haifa, Acre and others.

In the government’s first research in the Knesset on laws related to the Palestinians, a new crisis has arisen related to the family unification law, aka the “Nationality Law”, which contributes to dividing Palestinian families between the West Bank and the Green Line.

The new government could neither ratify to prevent a crisis within the government coalition. It decided to postpone its ratification, hoping that the Bennett-Lapid government would secure a majority to pass it.

The violence that erupted in the Arab population against the backdrop of the escalation in Gaza marks a profound crack in Arab-Jewish relations, as well as a ticking timebomb that threatens the “State of Israel” as a civilized state under the rule of law.

Israeli researchers said it was an expression of Israel’s longstanding failure in integration, governance and law enforcement when crime and violence soared.

It urged the Israeli government to implement uncompromising enforcement to restore order (intelligence, arrests, legal action, deterring punishments), for it is instrumental in getting life back on track, and bridging the rift between communities in mixed Jewish-Arab cities.

“At the same time, national plans and budgets should be implemented and expanded immediately in order to address Arab society problems.”

“At the heart of this effort, crime must be eradicated, local leaderships encouraged and supported and integration processes with Jewish society and state institutions accelerated,” it added.

Commenting on the rift in relations between Palestinians of 1948 and the Jews, Director of the Center for a Shared Society at Givat Haviva, Michal Sela warned of the repercussions of the situation in Arab and mixed towns during operation “Guardians of the Walls.”

“The current hiatus between Jews and Arabs is an accumulation of decades of alienation felt by the Palestinians of 1948 along with hostility and suspicion, which led to the explosion and consequently the break in the relations that “reflect a clear definition of the other (and in this case the Palestinians of 48) as an enemy,” Sela said.

“The new government has been formed based on the Jewish-Arab partnership (the support of the Islamist party led by Mansour Abbas to the new coalition) and this is an important step to fix the situation,” she added.

Accordingly, the new government should first develop a strategic plan to raise awareness about the shared life.

“In the past two decades, after the collapse of the peace process in the late 90s, we saw a decrease in investment in dialogue education for a shared society.”

In this society, the youth learn to know and respect others, learn about their difficulties and different stories and grow up to become peace-loving citizens who seek to live together, Sela explained.

As long as Israel chose not to raise its children to respect democracy, equality and the aspiration to a shared life, the gaps in Israel’s society will widen and violence will increase, she stressed.

Sela further underscored the importance of creating a system of deep and continuous acquaintance and encounter between Jews and Arabs through professional guidance and joint learning.

In her opinion, learning Hebrew and spoken Arabic at a high level in the education curricula is a “significant” step.

It is noteworthy that according to the data obtained from the Israel Democracy Institute, about 74 percent of Jews do not speak Arabic at all, and about 30 percent of Arabs do not speak Hebrew fluently.