Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

State of Paralysis

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, June 1, 2021 --  

Netanyahu's long rule of Israel may finally be at an end. His key policies won't be changing any time soon.

The presumed ouster of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after 12 years in in office marks and end of an era. Netanyahu's rule was marked by economic growth, aggressive Israeli settlement of the occupied West Bank, and an undermining of the goal of creating a Palestinian State. Yet while Netanyahu's rule may be at an end, his key policies won't be changing any time soon.

The fractious coalition government poised to remove Netanyahu agree on little other than the desire to remove the polarizing Israeli leader. Recent corruption charges against Netanyahu have eroded his support, allowing his enemies on the right, left and center to join with Arab Israelis to muster the votes to form a coalition government to send him packing.1 But what can that government possibly achieve?

The largest block of seats in the Israeli Knesset comes from Yair Lapid's centrist Yesh Atid party, but he had to make political deals with the devil to get enough votes to form a government. The deal allows Naftali Bennett from the New Right party to become prime minister for the first two years of the government (if it even lasts that long.)2

Bennet has long been a staunch advocate of continued Israeli control of the occupied West Bank and settlement of Israeli Jews in the territory. This contrasts with his senior coalition partner who supports a two state solution envisioned in the 1990s Oslo Accords that created today's Palestinian Authority. Given the coalitions lack of consensus on this point, the world can expect the next Israeli government to be paralyzed when it comes to dealing with the Palestinians and occupied territories.

A continuation of the status quo effectively means more Jewish settlement in the West Bank, further construction of the separation barrier, and a continued siege of the residents of the Gaza Strip. This guarantees more anger and fury from Palestinians, especially in Hamas-controlled Gaza.

The inability of the government to address these unsustainable policies means that the government itself has little hope of serving out its full term, and will probably fall before long. But as multiple recent Israeli elections have shown, there is currently no appetite for change amongst Israeli voters. This means that any future government will either be led by Netanyahu's Likud party (probably without the controversial leader given corruption investigations) or by coalition too weak to change the policies Likud has already put in place.

And given demographic patterns, this situation is likely to get worse over time. Israel's highest birthrates are amongst the conservative Orthodox Jews and Arab populations. With each year that passes, secular Jews are becoming a smaller part of the electorate. The country may never again see the kind of government that signed the Oslo Accords pledging creation of a Palestinian state.

The de-facto alternative of a single country shared by Palestinians and Jews is certainly possible -- that's effectively what has been in place for the last 50 years, albeit with Israel occupying the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But unless Israel is comfortable with increasingly becoming an international pariah, like South Africa once was, it will need to figure a way to grant Palestinians civil rights in a single state. Doing so without eliminating Israel's tenuous Jewish majority will be tricky.

Bosnia offers one possible model. For 25 years since the end of its civil war, it has had an arrangement where the Serbs live in a loose federation with the rest of the country. This guarantees the Serb minority control in its majority areas while allowing Coats and Bosniaks to have full self-governance in the remaining areas. The federation does little besides manage the common currency and control the borders.

Unfortunately, Israeli voters are utterly unwilling to make the compromises needed to make this happen. From their perspective, things are pretty good right now: they have economic prosperity, live largely in peace (despite occasional bombings near the West Bank and rocket attacks from Gaza).

So long as Israel remains in a state of political paralysis, Netanyahu's uncompromising policies will be here to stay -- even if Netanyahu won't be there to implement them.

Related Web Columns:

Stubborn Denial, September 20, 2011


1. Jerusalem Post, Will Knesset Speaker Levin Postpone Vote on New Government? June 1, 2021

2. NBC News, Opposition Parties Unite in Israel in Bid to Unseat Netanyahu as Prime Minister, May 30. 2021