Political, Security Crises Plague Israel
After volatile weekend, government negotiations could lead to Netanyahu’s ouster
With just over a week left on the clock to present his new government before possibly relinquishing the throne after 12 years in office, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday was burdened with more pressing matters, convening an urgent security cabinet meeting in light of the latest tense weekend in Israel.
The meeting, the second one to be called in one week, lasted nearly three hours and ended early Monday evening with no official statement released.
Early Monday morning, the latest volley of missiles was fired from the neighboring Gaza Strip, after close to 40 rockets were launched on Saturday.
Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group controlling Gaza that Israel, the United States and the European Union consider a terror organization, said the barrage was a response to “Zionist aggression,” referring to limitations imposed by Jerusalem’s police on Muslim worshippers near the capital’s Old City during the holy month of Ramadan.
Metal barriers preventing residents from accessing the central Damascus Gate complex after breaking their traditional daily fasts were removed Sunday night by order of Police Chief Kobi Shabtai.
Concurrent with the urgent security discussion, Israel’s entire political cast on Monday converged on parliament, holding their weekly party conferences and consultations and addressing the media.
Netanyahu, who was tapped by President Reuven Rivlin to form a government earlier this month, has eight days remaining to present his coalition before returning the mandate to the president.
After failing to clinch a 61-seat right-wing majority in the March elections, the prime minister seems unlikely to meet his deadline.
His efforts to fuse together extreme right-wing parties in his own camp with the United Arab List, which has signaled its willingness to collaborate with the prime minister, have so far failed.
If we all show leadership and responsibility, we can create a government in one week
In the past few days, Netanyahu has instead shifted his focus to thwarting his opponents’ attempts at establishing a government of their own.
“If we all show leadership and responsibility, we can create a government in one week,” Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, who has in recent days conducted negotiations with right-wing lawmaker Naftali Bennett over a unity government that would unseat Netanyahu, said in a statement sent to The Media Line.
“In the coming days we will have to make some tough decisions, I realize that. Netanyahu wants fifth elections, we want a functioning government for Israel. We owe that to the Israeli people.”
Bennett, a former aide and political ally to the prime minister who set off on his own path and now chairs his own party, sounded more reserved in his public remarks.
“I can’t promise our efforts will bear fruit,” he said Monday.
“There are two options. Our preferable choice is to join a right-wing government, headed by Netanyahu or anyone else. Time is running out; we have one week for that.”
“Our second option is a unity government, but to be honest, our differences remain significant. We insist this coalition will reflect the will of the people and of parliament, which has a clear right-wing majority,” Bennett stated, adding that he will “leave no stone unturned … to stop our country from devolving into prolonged chaos.”
Israel has held four elections in the past two years, with the country and its representatives in the legislature split down the middle over Netanyahu’s remaining in office.
There are difficulties erecting this unity government. Time is running out and today I can’t say whether we will succeed
Gideon Sa’ar, another prominent former confidant of Netanyahu who in the latest elections broke sharply from the incumbent and promised to help bring him down, seconded Bennett’s cautious sentiment.
“There are difficulties erecting this unity government,” the right-wing lawmaker admitted. “Time is running out and today I can’t say whether we will succeed.”
“But it’s important to exhaust all avenues. Not at every price. Not on every condition. But we are committed to doing our best to prevent fifth elections.”
Once Netanyahu’s allotted time to present a government expires, President Rivlin can either award a different candidate, presumably Lapid, another month to form a government, or pass the decision on to parliament itself, essentially ensuring another round of elections.
The proposed unity government, headed for two years by Bennett and then two by Lapid, would consist of both very liberal and extremely conservative parties, and would likely refrain from passing any controversial legislation.
“I heard Bennett and Sa’ar and yes, there are differences,” Lapid said Monday. “But we all agree on one thing, Israel needs a full-time government.”
Still Netanyahu insists on calling himself the protector of Israel and will soon call on parties to join his ‘emergency government,’ which he has created the emergency for
Merav Michaeli, chair of the left-wing Labor party, tied Israel’s security and political quagmires together.
“Our region is dangerously heating up … with violent riots in Jerusalem and rockets from Gaza, the West Bank reaching a boiling point, a rocket launch from Syria to Dimona last week and a persisting massive Iranian buildup with no agreement to stop it,” Michaeli said in a statement sent to The Media Line via a spokesperson.
“Still Netanyahu insists on calling himself the protector of Israel and will soon call on parties to join his ‘emergency government,’ which he has created the emergency for.”
“We are committed to replacing [Netanyahu] and erecting a Change Government that will rehabilitate Israel,” she promised.