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After the Fall—Comes the Reckoning

epicentermedia.com

All Israeli governments fall sooner or later, to paraphrase the opening line of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, but each government’s fall is unique in its own special way. Yet even according to this maxim, the fall of the current government stands out as especially unusual, disturbing, and telling. Here’s why:

To begin with, this governing coalition, which was formed just over a year ago, was unusual not only in Israel but throughout the democratic world. After two years with four elections but without a decisive win for the left, right, or center, and with Netanyahu and his Likud still very much a threat to the rule of law—his day in a Jerusalem court on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach-of-trust was about to begin—and Israel’s democracy teetering after some twelve years as prime minister. But then eight small parties—I repeat, eight!—got together and were able to form a unity coalition of 61 Knesset 1 members.

Quite the miracle. In this governing coalition, Yair Lapid (the driving force and now a caretaker PM) and his Yesh Atid party had 17 Members, a center-left party of liberal Tel Avivians opposed mightily to Netanyahu and fighting to retain Israel’s fragile democracy. He Partnered with Naftali Bennet, whose party Yemina, a right of Likud party of settlements and settlers, had only 7 members, with one already on his way out. There were parties from the very left, like Meretz and Labor, and the central party of Defense Minister Benny Gantz. And to add a cherry to that cake: An Arab Muslin party for the first time in Israel’s history. No Jewish religious party, though: also a first. But a religious Prime Minister. A first too.

It was expected, and predicted—by many observers, including yours truly—that this government won’t last for long. Indeed, it lasted about a year. In that year its major accomplishment was its “survival.” The fact that it had managed to stay in power, and take care of business—the remains of the coronavirus pandemic, economic issues, passing a budget for the first time in three years, and no war with Hamas in Gaza. So not only did they kick Netanyahu out of office, but enabled the court proceeding against him to begin and continue, which was another important achievement.

But it was not enough. The cracks became fissions. Some rats began to escape the sinking ship. And yet, as pointed above, the most telling thing—not just as to the fall of this government, but in a certain way for Israel and its conflict with Palestine as a whole—was why and how this government fell. Let me try to explain, especially for those of you who don’t keep a close tab on the ins and outs of Israel’s politics since this issue may come back to haunt other governments, and maybe the future of Israel as a democratic Jewish state.

There is a law in Israel, the “Emergency Regulations for Judea and Samaria” (it includes also the Jordan Valley), which was enacted not long after the Six-day War of 1967 by the Labor party in power at the time. Basically, it established two sets of legal systems (both illegal according to the Geneva Convention): one for Israelis living in the occupied territories, who will live under Israeli civil laws, and one for the Arab citizens of the West Bank, who will be ruled by the occupying Israeli army. Separating Jews from the Arabs was the idea, you get the picture. These laws, “Emergency Regulations,” stayed in effect since then, enshrining the occupation into existence. No wonder it was nicknamed the “Settlers Law.” Make sense, doesn’t it? Though others refer to it as the “Apartheid Law.” Take your pick.

Since then, every Israeli government had automatically—with some adjustments and tightening of the screw—renewed this law in the Knesset when it expired, I believe every five years. And yet—hold on to your seat—when the law was about to be renewed now, in this government with a past settler as its Prime Minister, the opposition—led by who else but Netanyahu—refused to support it. Why? Not because they opposed it. Couldn’t be further from the truth. But because they realized that this is their best chance of toppling the government. Successful, as it were, due to a couple of defections of members in the coalition.

In other words: sheer brutal politics overtook substance and common sense. And so a law representing the worst of Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank, agreed upon by the vast majority of the Knesset members, had failed to pass in order to bring down the government and enforce fifth elections in the space of three and a half years. What’s more, once—and if—a new government is in power, certainly if it’s Netanyahu’s Likud, the law will be the first to pass in a heartbeat. Not to be believed, if it wasn’t true.

In a way, there is some justice in all of it. A law that preserved and protected the unlawful occupation, creating a semi-Apartheid state, and symbolizing all of Israel’s problems with the Palestinians—its inability and unwillingness to make peace by establishing a two-state solution—is also forcing on the Israeli citizens a Perpetuum mobile of unending elections. And in the process, unsettling the Israeli democracy. If the latest polls are to be believed—and why not, unlike here in America they were pretty accurate in the latest rounds of the Israeli elections—while Netanyahu’s win is secured, as far as winning the largest share of Knesset members, his ability to form a governing coalition hasn’t improved that much.

And so it goes. Only time would tell, of course, since anything can happen. Pardon those previous clichés, yet this is where Israel finds itself now. Its major existential threat—no, not that of Iran’s nuclear capability, or Hamas in the south and Hezbollah in the north, but—the future of Israel as a democratic Jewish state, is facing another major challenge.

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