Israel’s unlikely unity coalition is no more. In a joint statement today, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that that they will bring a bill to dissolve the Knesset to a vote next Monday. This means that elections will likely be held in October. According to the coalition agreement, Lapid will become caretaker prime minister until the election and until the new government comes into power.
The debate has already begun: Was the Bennett-Lapid government a success or a failure? As evidence of success, some will mention reforms in Kosher certificates, or the promotion of public transportation ventures; some will say that the government has begun the process of lowering the level of crime in Arab society; some will mention mysterious actions in Syria or Iran. All of these are important, but the counterargument is stronger: a government that lasts only one year is a failure. End of story.
Unless the government that lasted only a year had achieved something highly beneficial and irreversible.
Here is an example from the not-too-distant past. The Ehud Barak government of 1999 was a government that did not last long and implemented only a few policies. It also bequeathed its successor, the first Ariel Sharon government, a major crisis in the form of the second intifada. Barak failed in his ambitious attempt to bring about a peace agreement with the Syrians. Barak failed in his megalomanic attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Along the way, he also buried the Labor Party as a ruling party, perhaps forever.
Was the Barak government a failure? Almost everything the Barak government did was a failure. Still, some would say the government was a success. Why? Because of one great act, dramatic and irreversible. The Barak government pulled Israel from southern Lebanon. Of course, one could argue about whether the change was positive. There are those who believe that the move in Lebanon led to the tragedy of the Intifada. Whatever you think about this specific policy, you can’t take from Barak this one thing: in his often-clumsy attempts to do something great, he left behind a lot of shattered pottery, and can be blamed for causing great damage. On the other hand, he did not waste his time. He wanted to make a change – and did. For better or worse, only history will judge.
The Netanyahu-Ganz government of just a year ago was also a short-lived government. Was it able to achieve much? Anything? Ah – the Abraham Accords. Not a small thing. Was the Netanyahu-Ganz government a failure? Politically, it was definitely a failure. Its main purpose was to end a dismal chapter of recurring elections. Obviously, it did not solve that problem. Yet on the other hand, it made a great change. And it does not matter that the credit goes to Netanyahu and not to Gantz; and it does not matter that the government was just very lucky to have Donald Trump in power as US President; and it does not matter that to get the Abraham Accords annexation promises were waived. Politics is the art of exploiting opportunities, and the Netanyahu-Ganz government has stood this crucial test. In the collective memory, this government was etched as a failure, but try to ask the following question: which is better, to have had this government and the Abraham Accords, or not to have had both? The answer seems obvious.
The Bennett-Lapid government will also be a short-lived government. And not only will it be short-lived and will also not solve the problem of recurring elections, it may well not achieve the main goal for which it was established: to keep Netanyahu out of power forever. Under such circumstances, is there anything that can be attributed to this government that would make it a success?
There is one: it is the addition of the Islamist Raam Party to the coalition, and the cautious, complicated attempt, to normalize the participation of Israeli Arabs in the grand game of Israeli politics.
You might say: But the attempt failed!
But that’s premature. The attempt was not exactly successful, but it created a precedent that could be a prelude for a better future.
You might say: this will have the opposite effect! Because of the failure the next attempt isn’t coming anytime soon.
But that’s also premature. Political dynamics are often unpredictable. In fact, the critical question for now is whether Arab voters are going to make Raam’s gamble seem wise or foolish. Will they prove that Raam’s leader Mansour Abbas is right to assume that Arab voters want integration and partnership, or will they send the opposite signal and send him home?
Arab inclusion is the act that could change the way history judges the Bennett-Lapid government.
Either way, Arab inclusion is probably the only great act this government has done (of course, if nothing dramatic happens before Election Day). Arab inclusion is the act that could change the way history judges the Bennett-Lapid coalition. And as in the case of pulling out of Lebanon, the final verdict won’t be available quickly, nor will it be by consensus. This will be a debate. You might as well start it now.
Something I Wrote in Hebrew
As some Israeli youngsters attempt to kindle a 2022 version of Israel’s 2011 social justice protests, here is what I wrote:
This will be the great irony of a social justice protest in the summer of 2022. Supposedly, a social justice protest is aimed at criticizing the government, clashing with the government. But a social justice protest this summer will be a pro-government protest. Netanyahu feared the protests of 2011, Bennett and Lapid would not be afraid of them in 2022, they would embrace them, they would tell the protesting Israelis “you are right, that is exactly what we intended to do, we just did not have to deliver”. They will tell them “give us more time and we will continue in this mission”.
A Week’s Number
It is “book week” in Israel, a great time to see which people have which books at home. Here are the numbers for Israel’s most successful book of the last decade: Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harrari.
A Reader’s Response
And here is another response concerning “Must Israel be Moral?” from two weeks ago. Barbara levy writes: “If you want Israel to be Jewish then it must be moral. Full stop”. That could be an opening remark for an interesting debate.
Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.