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Middle east

Netanyahu’s ruling coalition ‘can collapse at any time’


Text by Marc DAOU

Latest update : 2013-03-18

After weeks of negotiations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached a deal with secular centrists and a pro-settler party to form a new government. FRANCE 24 asked peace activist Ofer Bronchtein how long this uneasy alliance could last.

Forty days of tough negotiations - that’s what it took for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new coalition government with two of the country’s rising political stars. Newcomers Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party and pro-settler leader Naftali Bennett signed the coalition deal only days before US President Barack Obama’s visit in the region.

Israel's rising stars: Yair Lapid (L) and Naftali Bennett (R)

FRANCE 24 asked Ofer Bronchtein, a former advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Yithzak Rabin and the co-founder of the International Forum for Peace in the Middle East, what he thought of the country’s new government.

FRANCE 24: Ultra-Orthodox religious parties won’t be part of the ruling coalition for the first time in decades. What does this imply for the Israeli political scene?

Ofer Bronchtein: Let’s be clear, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be any religious parties in the new government. Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party is a national-religious movement. In fact, it's more hardline than the Ultra-Orthodox groups, like Shas, that Netanyahu would have preferred to keep in his coalition.These Ultra-Orthodox parties are focused on protecting the interests of their communities.

Some people may think that this government is not as right-wing as its predecessor because several new ministers come from the centrist and secular party of Yair Lapid. That would be wrong. Yair Lapid’s party is centrist when it comes to domestic policies. But in regard to international affairs, this new government is somewhere between the right and the far-right.

Considering Benjamin Netanyahu’s concessions to his coalition partners, do you think that the Israeli prime minister has been weakened? Is this a viable coalition government?

He appears weakened but he still leads the Likud-Beiteinu alliance that won the most seats in the last election. Netanyahu is a seasoned veteran of Israeli politics. He’ll have to be a very shrewd politician to lead the country because any disagreement within the ruling coalition would result in a severe political crisis - his government could collapse at any time. I think that this government could last up to two years, no more.

Netanyahu’s main opponents – Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett – have forged an unnatural alliance in order to gain as much political weight as the prime minister’s Likud-Beiteinu and its 31 Knesset members. As soon as they start to govern, their conflicting points of views will become obvious to all, especially on the issue of public deficit. Lapid promised his voters that he would implement drastic budgetary cuts – which implies dealing with the budget of the Ministry of Defense as well as costly pro-settlement policies. That would be a non-starter for Naftali Bennett, who represents the settler movement in the Knesset. His Jewish Home party will take control of the Ministry of Housing and encourage settlement construction.

Can this government breathe new life into the moribund peace process with the Palestinians?

That’s absolutely impossible with a government that includes Naftali Bennett. The leader of the Jewish Home party is against the creation of a Palestinian state, and he doesn’t believe in a future peace agreement. The international community and US President Barack Obama have repeatedly called for a freeze on settlement construction to put the peace process back on track. Bennett can’t accept that; it’s likely that such a policy would prompt him to leave the ruling coalition. If Netanyahu wanted to go ahead with a freeze on settlement construction, he would have to turn to his former Ultra-Orthodox allies.

Date created : 2013-03-17


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