On Wednesday evening, a historic photograph was taken and published. Three leaders, sitting together, smiling, having just signed an agreement. These were right-wing leader Naftali Bennett, slated to be Israel’s Prime Minister. Centrist leader Yair Lapid, slated to become Israel’s alternate PM and Foreign Minister. And Mansour Abbas, the leader of the Islamist party Raam, a member of the new coalition without which it could not materialize.
Before we explain why this photograph is so important, and what it means, let’s be careful. Yesterday, Lapid informed the President that he formed a coalition. And yet, the coming days, between the announcement and the actual vote – it could take up to 12 days until a vote – are fraught with tension and risks for the newborn. One member of Yamina, Bennett’s party, is still unconvinced; a few others are fuming at this or that compromise; the Likud party, slated to become the opposition, is working behind the scenes to spoil the new arrangement; outside forces – Hamas rockets is one example – can make the completion of the process more difficult; the actual agreement, when made public, can lead to renewed arguments. The bottom line: the new coalition is not yet a fact. But it is a likelihood.
Now back to the photograph. In it, the three men are smiling. They are an Arab and two Jews. They are two religious men (Bennett and Abbas) and one secular. They are not made of the same cloth, do not belong to the same natural political camp, and yet, they agreed to join forces, and did it with a big smile.
This is a revelational moment. For the first time in Israel’s history, an independent Arab party is joining the coalition as a full member. For the first time in a long time, politicians from different camps are joining forces of their own volition, without making the world feel that they just swallowed a bitter pill. For the first time in a very long time, Prime Minister Netanyahu is out of the picture. Many members of his party, Likud, never had to spend a day in the opposition. They thought that the coalition, the government, was a Likud birthright. In the other camp, many members were never part of a ruling government. They do not know the difference between the casual populism of an opposition and the grave responsibility of the people in charge.
They will have to learn fast, both because the fate of the country will now be in their hands, and because working together is the only way to make this work.
Of course, this is a coalition of many contradictions. Gay leaders sit with anti-gay leaders. Right-wing ideologues sit with peaceniks. Capitalist leaders sit with socialist activists. They come together to achieve one goal: getting rid of the current PM, Netanyahu. But to survive for longer than just tasting life without Bibi, they’ll have to do something that’s more significant: to highlight the many other goals most of them share.
The media lives off controversy. Politicians live off controversy. And hence, we tend to forget that the debates between most parties are on the twenty percent on which parties disagree, not the eighty percent on which they agree.
Yes, those exist. The media lives off controversy. Politicians live off controversy. And hence, we tend to forget that the debates between most parties are on the twenty percent on which parties disagree, not the eighty percent on which they agree. This is surely true for the leaders of Yamina, Yesh Atid, Blue and White and Israel Beiteinu. This is slightly less true for some members of Meretz, Labor and Raam, and yet, even for them, finding common causes is not as complicated as we tend to think. What’s complicated is getting over the habit, and temptation, to pick a fight over the twenty percent. That’s the complication. That’s the challenge. That will determine whether a new government will become a reality or just a short moment of celebration.
Shmuel Rosner is an Israeli columnist, editor, and researcher. He is the editor of the research and data-journalism website themadad.com and is the political editor of the Jewish Journal.