New President and new Government?: LDFI Israeli Election Update

Credit: Ra'am

We are relieved to see that the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas seems to have restored a degree of calm in the last week. However, this has also been a momentous week in Israeli domestic politics.

New President of the State of Israel

Firstly, this week Israel elected its 11th President, Isaac Herzog. The President of the State of Israel is a predominantly ceremonial role as Head of State. The President’s most important role is to lead the process of forming a government. Israel’s proportional representation electoral system makes it almost impossible for one party to govern alone like in the UK. Therefore, after each election, the president consults with party leaders to determine who is most likely to command a majority in the Knesset, as President Rivlin has had to do four times in the last two years, due to Israel’s political stalemate. Presidents are voted for by the members of the Knesset and are elected for a single seven-year term.

Isaac Herzog, is a former MK and Minister for the Israeli Labour Party, having been the leader of the opposition from 2013-2018. Since 2018, he has been the Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel. The Jewish Agency is the largest Jewish non-profit organisation in the world. Its primary function is to facilitate Aliyah (Jewish immigration) for people from all around the world. Its mission statement is ‘to ensure that every Jewish person feels an unbreakable bond to one another and to Israel’. Interestingly, Isaac Herzog’s father, Chaim, who was born in Belfast, and raised in Dublin, was the 6th President of the State of Israel.

A new Israeli government?

28 days after being handed the mandate to form a government by President Rivlin, and less than an hour before the deadline, our Zionist, secular, liberal and centrist friend, Yair Lapid informed the President he has successfully negotiated a historic governing coalition from right across the political spectrum.

In the past 28 days, Lapid and his Yesh Atid team have worked day and night, even throughout the conflict with Hamas in Gaza, to form a national unity government to defeat incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This new governing coalition will feature a rotation agreement between Lapid, and the right-wing leader of Yamina, Naftali Bennett, with Bennett as Prime Minster first, and Lapid becoming Foreign Minister. Lapid would then become Prime Minister in August 2023.

It is unusual that Bennett with only 7 seats compared to Yesh Atid’s 17 seats is assuming the premiership first, however, in Israel’s PR electoral system, compromises have to be made to form a coalition. Lapid decided to offer the premiership to Bennett first, so that he would join the ‘change-bloc’ of parties as opposed to his natural allies on the right and religious sides of the political spectrum.

Lapid has been widely praised for his integrity and humility at allowing Bennett to assume the premiership first, as he has been seen as ‘putting the Israeli people’s interests above his own’. Lapid and Bennett’s governing coalition really encompasses the wide range of views and ideologies in Israel, as it includes, two centrist parties, two left wing parties, three right wing parties and for the first time ever, an Israeli Arab party is part of the formal coalition.

This government may initially be headed by another right-wing figure, however, make no mistake, this is a government of change. The backbone of this government will be Lapid’s Zionist, secular, liberal and centrist Yesh Atid party, with its 17 seats. This government will contain parties from the right, the centre, the left and the Israeli Arab community. With Netanyahu potentially on the way out for now, however this is hopefully the dawn of a new era in Israeli politics.

It is expected that Bennett and Lapid’s government will focus on Israel’s post-COVID recovery and reuniting the country. It is expected to refrain from dealing with controversial ideological issues. Therefore, we are likely to not see any real progression in the formal peace process with the Palestinians, but there also might be a halt on settlement building in the West Bank, due to the pressure from the progressive parties within the coalition.

However, this would not be Israeli politics if there were not potential roadblocks to the establishment of the government. One of Naftali Bennett’s MKs from his Yamina party has already decided to not join the coalition, with a second one, Nir Orbach wavering. Prime Minister Netanyahu will remain in position until the new government is formally voted in by the Knesset. In the next few days, MKs from the right-wing coalition partners of Yamina, Yisrael Beitenu and New Hope are expected to come under enormous pressure from the Likud to pull out of the government.

To expedite the process of forming a new government, the Bennett/Lapid coalition will look to take control of the legislative process by replacing the Likud Speaker of the Knesset, however Naftali Bennett must keep his MKs on side to succeed in voting out the existing Speaker. We wish our friends in Yesh Atid the best of luck in the days ahead.

We will keep you updated on how this plays out in the next week or so. Please let us know if you have any questions, and follow us on Twitter: @_ldfi

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