by Tobias Gisle
Thursday, 3
June 2021
Explainer
10:00

Today is a good day for Israeli democracy

Bibi's defeat gives liberals much to cheer for
by Tobias Gisle
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (L), Yamina leader Naftali Bennett (C) and Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas sign a coalition agreement on June 2, 2021

Tel Aviv

It’s not often that you see Israeli peace activists and Leftists cheer the success of a far-Right settler leader. But this is exactly what happened last night. The animosity towards ”Bibi” Netanyahu has reached such fervour that it has brought together parties from Right, Left and Centre together with a small Arab Islamist party. Politicians united by nothing more than a desire to unseat the Prime Minister seem to have succeeded in their primary goal.

Bibi’s reactions on the other hand have been wild, from threatening to bomb Iran to calling the proposed government a danger to the Israeli army. It reminds me of the final words of Saddam Hussein: ”Palestine is Arab”! Sure, but no one asked you about Palestine — the question was whether you are a mass murdering dictator. In Bibi’s case the question is not Iran or the armed forces, but whether he himself is a danger to democracy.

The labyrinthine process of coalition-building in Israel is hard to understand, but perhaps never more so than in the past 24 hours. Last night, an hour before the deadline for forming a government was set to expire, Yair Lapid, the centre-Left leader of the second largest party after Netanyahu’s Likud, submitted a deal to form a government to outgoing president Reuben Rivlin. The deal stipulates that the premiership will be shared by Lapid and Naftali Bennett, the Right-wing leader who wants to annex the whole of the West Bank and who will serve the first two years as PM.

Obviously this is a brittle, perhaps unsustainable, combination and may even fall apart before the votes are cast in a few days time. Netanyahu has been targeting Bennett’s MKs (Members of the Knesset) with a campaign claiming that they are leading a ”government of the Left” and if he succeeds in this he will bring down the proposed government before it even starts. This strategy brought the first round of negotiations to an end when the Gaza war made it impossible for Bennett’s party to ignore Netanyahu’s line of argument: sitting in a government with Palestinian Islamists while fighting other Palestinian Islamists in Gaza was not a good look. But this time, the government is on the verge of forming after a second round of negotiations.

If the government holds and the Right-wing parties stick with it, there are indeed a few things that the Israeli Left can celebrate. The first is that democracy will have succeeded in replacing Netanyahu, which, whatever your views, is a sign of a functional system: Bibi stands accused of petty corruption and meddling with the media, and his divide-and-conquer tactics against his political enemies have led many Israelis to fear for Israeli democracy itself. The second is that although Bennett will be PM, he understands that his mandate does not include some of his more extreme dreams of annexation, so although we can expect a stalemate in the peace negotiations, this government is unlikely to completely kill the idea of a two-state solution. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, for the first time in Israel’s history we will have an Arab party in a government coalition, a move towards inclusion of the more than two million Arab citizens of Israel. With all this in mind, we can perhaps cautiously say that this is a good day for liberals and friends of democracy in Israel.

Tobias Gisle is a Swedish-born writer based in Tel Aviv and writes for Times of Israel and Fokus

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Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

this orgasm will continue until the inevitable next Hamas rocket attack which will be followed by the retaliation that has marked EVERY Israeli govt, Labour or Likud.
 for the first time in Israel’s history we will have an Arab party in a government coalition, a move towards inclusion of the more than two million Arab citizens of Israel. It’s curious how people who see this as a good thing – but cannot explain why – remain willfully ignorant to how the reverse never, ever happens. The fact is that the freest Arabs in the Middle East are the ones living in a Jewish state.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Exactly; how many Jewish parties are there in Arab states? There aren’t enough Jewish citizens in any of them to even form a party, even if it were allowed.

Joe ntemuse
Joe ntemuse
1 year ago

This article, like many on the Israeli issue, is utter nonsense .Bibi has been the democratically elected PM since 2009.How he can simultaneously be danger to democracy is beyond me.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
1 year ago
Reply to  Joe ntemuse

You miss the point.
It was not the correct form of democracy!

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
1 year ago

Leftists always hate democracy when it works against them.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago
Reply to  Joe ntemuse

His friends worry that he will never retire; his enemies will do nearly everything to push him out. So they join forces in an unholy alliance to get him out. Maybe he will understand and throw his support to someone else then retire. But the unholy alliance is likely to tear apart quickly but last long enough to sideline Bibi for a period. Amazing politics at work.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago
Reply to  Joe ntemuse

The ‘democracy’ talking point has been a staple on the left on both sides of the pond for the past few years. It’s like trying to reason with a two-year old.

Paul Goodman
Paul Goodman
1 year ago

From an external view I am at a loss to see what this might achieve. I am genuinely inquisitive to learn other than removing the PM by rivals and claiming “democracy works” what is it that has driven this move in terms of internal politics?
Surly the overriding issue is international diplomacy and there is nothing good about; “although we can expect a stalemate in the peace negotiations, this government is unlikely to completely kill the idea of a two-state solution.” What is the point of a ceasefire if there are to be no negotiations? A government that parks this issue is a bad government. Lebanon is a great example of what a government of enemies can achieve.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

We shall see, but journalists and commentators are always wrong about these things so I expect it will be a disaster.

Warren Alexander
Warren Alexander
1 year ago

A government that is inherently unstable is good for neither the Israelis or the Palestinians.

andrew harman
andrew harman
1 year ago

That Bennett has come a long way since leading the UK Green Party 🙂

rolf_herman
rolf_herman
1 year ago

Superficially yes, but it is doubtful if it is Good for Israel and the Peace?

rrostrom
rrostrom
1 year ago

It will be interesting to see if the United Arab List will stay in the government if there is another round of fighting in Gaza. As part of the government, they would be sharing responsibility for Israeli military actions and could be attacked as traitors to the Arab cause.

Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
1 year ago

I wouldn’t want to get involved in trying to understand Israeli politics, but I do think it is desirable for any electorate to be in a position to unseat a Prime Minister who has over-stayed his welcome.

Now all we need is a set of circumstances that enable us to the same thing here. Which is why I am rather more concerned about the prospect of replacing Starmer with a proper leader of the Labour Party (that’s ‘right wing’ to the skinny latté crowd), and the Labor Party as is with a Labour Party that someone with b***s can vote for.

Last edited 1 year ago by Kremlington Swan
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

It does seem that the Israeli electoral system is almost perversely designed to bring about instability. It is a good antidote to those who think a pure system of proportional representation is by definition the best electoral system. As it happens, I would favour the injection of more proportionality in the UK system, not least because of the grotesque underrepresentation of parties garnering millions of votes, notably the Lib Dems and UKIP (or at least that was the case a few years ago). However there ought to be thresholds to exclude tiny and completely unrepresentative parties holding the balance of power, as in Germany.
Whatever Netanyahu’s faults, this coalition of parties with completely incompatible world views seems destined to collapse.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
1 year ago

People always say “it’s a great day for democracy” when their preferred candidate wins.