Israeli Politics: The Historic Significance of the Lapid-Bennett Alliance
Israeli Politics: The Historic Significance of the Lapid-Bennett Alliance
Until March 1, and then for 14 days after that, all we are going to see is Prime Minister Netanyahu’s attempt to break the Lapid-Bennett alliance. He is going to throw the kitchen sink at them [mostly at Bennett, where he has more of a chance of making an impact]. Make no mistake, the outcome of the battle between Netanyahu and the haredim on the one hand versus Lapid and Bennett on the other will set the course of Israel’s history. It is a battle of historic significance. Since the Likud government of Menachem Begin in 1977, and apart from the second Ariel Sharon government from 2003-2005, the Likud and the haredim have had an ironclad alliance which has cemented the status quo here. The haredi parties joined Rabin in 1992, which shows they have no real ideological principles, only monetary. So, apart from one brief stint of two years in the Knesset opposition, the haredim have been in government for some 36 years. Israeli politicians come and go, but the rabbis behind the haredi politicians do not change. The alliance of the liberal Zionist Likud, the religious Zionist settler parties, and the anti-Zionist haredi parties has stood firm for over thirty years.
But now there is prospect for real change, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.
If Netanyahu succeeds in forcing Bennett to abandon Lapid and join his government, we will not see a true change in the way this country is run. Haredim will not join the army in any substantive numbers, haredi children will not learn core subjects such as math and English, and their parents will not join the workforce in substantive numbers. What was will continue to be. There will not be a substantial change to the status quo of the inequality of national burden. Netanyahu will likely adopt a watered-down version of the Eugene Kandel plan, which is a watered-down version of the Moshe Ya’alon plan, which itself is a watered-down version of the Plessner plan, which is a watered-down version of the Lapid plan. Netanyahu vowed equal sharing of burden, so did Mofaz, so did Livni, so did Lapid, so did Lieberman, so did Bennett. The only people who want to keep things as they are, are the haredim. So what’s the problem? Why is it so hard for Netanyahu to form a coalition without the haredim? The majority of Israeli voters have spoken: they demand an equal sharing of the national burden. Even if that means Torah study in secular schools [which I think is a great idea but which the haredim apparently believe is a catastrophe]. Any government that arises here now and does not significantly change the status quo will be an illegitimate government.
On the Israeli-Palestinian peace process front, Netanyahu will allow Livni to conduct peace negotiations with the Palestinians that won’t really be peace negotiations. Livni, as is her wont, failed to understand the significance of Netanyahu’s offer to enter the coalition. The only people disappointed in Livni are those that still had any hope in her in the first place. When will you learn?
What will Livni say to her Palestinian interlocutor when Netanyahu’s government, her government, builds houses in E1? Will she quit? How will she explain something she is dead set against? What serious Palestinian will take Livni seriously, knowing full well that she’s not serious? Hatnuah’s coalition agreement with the Likud specifically states that a Netanyahu representative will be in the room whenever Livni conducts peace talks. What the hell is that supposed to mean? That Livni will have a chaperone? That she’ll have to look to this person every time she says anything and wait for his nod? Livni’s Hatnuah party is led by three failed leaders [Peretz, Mitzna and Livni herself] who just don’t want to walk away from it all. They all lost the leadership of their respective parties, they’ve all been shown the door, but they persist. Why? At least Yechimovich had the brains not to fall into the same trap that Livni did when Netanyahu offered the Labor leader the Treasury. Can you imagine Shelly Yechimovich as Finance Minister in a Netanyahu government? The Lion lies down with the Lamb, so maybe the Messiah will come..
The Lapid-Bennett alliance is aimed at changing the structural imbalance within Israeli society. That is what the Israeli voters want. If and when that is properly addressed, then Lapid and Bennett can go their separate ways over the peace process with the Palestinians [who don't really seem to want a real peace]. Lapid and Bennett talk in terms of ideology, policy and principles, while the Likud talks about portfolios, ministries, and jobs.
The pressure now is on Bennett. Much more than it is on Lapid. The latter will have to do whatever he can to help the former withstand it. The pressure is coming from the losers of the election: the Likud-Beytenu list and the haredim. They realize that the secular middle class in Israel has voted for a break with the old politics, a break from the 40-year-long alliance between the Likud and the haredi parties. They voted for Netanyahu to be prime minister, and they want him to do the following things:
- Compel haredi schools to teach the core curriculum, including English and math, so that their children can one day join the workforce
- Compel haredi adults into the workforce so that they are not such a heavy and growing financial burden on the secular middle class
- End the haredi monopoly on the institutions of religion and state so that Judaism becomes more inclusive and less degrading for the non-haredi
- Lower the cost of living, with a special emphasis on the cost of housing, and to take the Housing and Construction Ministry out of haredi hands.
- Restart peace talks with the Palestinians so that we can reach a two-state solution with serious, iron-clad security guarantees.
The question now is what Netanyahu will do with the conditional mandate he has received from the Israeli public. He has threatened that if he cannot form a government with the haredim and the nationalist camp, he will call new elections. This is spin, and polls show that if Netanyahu does this, he’ll lose and Lapid will be prime minister. So what is Netanyahu’s plan? What guidelines does he want to set for his coalition? Will his guidelines be the five demands set by the majority of Israeli voters? In what directions does he want to take the country over the next four years? Why is he not adopting these guidelines now and finding the coalition partners that will go down this road with him?
Ask yourself, why is Netanyahu expending all of his energies on prying Lapid and Bennett apart? He could, if he wanted to, find a face-saving way of bringing them both in and sign a broad coalition government within days. Instead, he’s sticking to the haredim, his “natural partners” that don’t take part in the workforce and don’t serve their country. Why? Why doesn’t Netanyahu choose other “natural partners” – those that do work and serve the state?
The answer, I’m afraid, could be that, at the end of another four years in office, Netanyahu wants there to be nobody to compete against him for another term in office, just like there wasn’t anyone competing against him this time. Netanyahu must break the Lapid-Bennett alliance so that Netanyahu can keep his alliance with the ultra-Orthodox, thus securing their allegiance for the next elections. It’s always about the next elections, isn’t it? Israeli history hinges on the Lapid-Bennett alliance. They must not break. What they can do now is find a way of working with Netanyahu, a way of acquiescing to some of his demands, a way of saving his face, so that he can take them both in without feeling humiliated and threatened. Netanyahu fears that if he takes them both on, he will be hostage to their agendas, and will not be able to be a strong prime minister. He fears that Lapid will work to undermine him from within. He may be right. But Lapid and Bennett also have a job to do. They need to work with Netanyahu, and they need to make it work. This is now their challenge. They were the victors of the January elections, and now they must be magnanimous. And Netanyahu needs to lead according to the will of the people.