Up until today, the only thing uniting the disparate parties making up Israel’s new unity government was their dedication to removing Benjamin Netanyahu from power.
But by the end of next week, Netanyahu will be in the opposition, and the new government will need to move on from its founding mission and get to the task of actually governing the nation.
How will they do it with parties ranging from Arab Islamists to progressive liberals to pragmatic centrists to Jewish nationalists? This government represents just about every point on the ideological map. That might sound egalitarian on paper, but can quickly lead to deadlocks.
From the start, the parties agreed that they’d avoid as much as possible dealing with sticky issues on which they are known to sharply disagree, like Jewish settlements and a Palestinian state. According to Monday’s agreed-upon guiding principles, they will focus on quickly passing a national budget (Israeli hasn’t had one in two years) and healing deep social rifts.
Based on a preliminary Channel 12 report, this is where the new government stands on the issues:
- A steering committee will be established to consider electoral reforms;
- The government will advance a law limiting the office of prime minister to two four-year terms, or 8 years total (whichever is longer);
- The agreement excluded a law prohibiting a person from indictment from serving as prime minister. The center and left-wing factions pushed for this to prevent Netanyahu from returning to power.
While these stipulations are almost all clearly aimed at Netanyahu and how he has managed to dominate Israeli politics for the past decade, theoretically they could bring more stability to the Israeli electoral system.
- The government will approve a state budget for the coming years shortly after its inauguration;
- The government will encourage growth based on the principles of a fair economy that directs budgetary investment to the middle class;
- The government commits to further reducing regulation and removing bureaucratic barriers;
- The government will work to strengthen the private sector, with an emphasis on small and medium-sized businesses. This includes establishing a safety net for small businesses and the unemployed, which suffered greatly when the coronavirus shut down Israel’s economy;
- The government will place emphasis on Israel’s high-tech sector by increasing the number of high-tech workers to 15% of all employed Israelis by 2026;
- The government will provide subsidies for training and professional job conversion;
- Two new hospitals will be built, in the Negev and the Galilee, as will an additional airport and high-speed trains;
- The government will push to accelerate the installation of fiber optic connections to the periphery of the country and the Arab sector;
- Increase welfare payments to the elderly to bring them on par with 70 percent of the current minimum wage.
The bulk of these are economic policies aimed at rapid growth that the voters of nearly all parties could easily support. What’s more, they deal with critical infrastructure needed to support Israel’s burgeoning population.
If this new government can indeed quickly pass a national budget and get started on these infrastructure projects, then it will already be deemed a success.
- Construction on a significant scale in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel;
- The government will work to strengthen national security;
- The government will engage in a constant pursuit of peace;
- The signed agreement does not prohibit unilateral actions by Israel, though earlier drafts did;
- Transfer of fall government ministries to Jerusalem.
While there are vague elements when it comes to territory, security and the peace process (and purposefully so), the main clear points lean to the Right in that they strengthen Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. Nor does the agreement explicitly block unilateral moves such as the annexation of parts of Judea and Samaria, though it would be hard to see the left-wing and Arab elements of the coalition supporting such actions.
- The government will work to approve, build and market 300,000 new housing units.
- The government will work to strengthen the police and provide it with needed additional manpower;
- The government will implement a program to combat crime in the Arab sector, including increased punishment for violation and dedicated police units.
The final agreement dropped an earlier call for harsh punishment over the possession illegal firearms. It is at this point unclear why, since possession of unregistered firearms is one of the root problems feeding disproportionate crime in the Arab sector.
Religion and state
- The parties agree to advance any issues regarding religion and state on which there is broad public agreement. The final version of the agreement dropped any direct reference to conversion, the layout of prayer areas at the Western Wall, public transportation on Shabbat, and other issues. These are all issues upon which the left and right-wing elements of the coalition sharply disagree;
- The parties have pledged to support the enactment of a “recruitment law” that has already passed its first reading in the 20th Knesset and which would require ultra-Orthodox Jews to do mandatory military or civil service like all other Jewish citizens;
- The Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense will examine a new model for national-civil service for “certain populations.” For this purpose, a committee will be set up to present its conclusions to the government within 90 days.
This is actually one of the more contentious areas for the new government. Even without the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition, deep divisions remain. The right-wing parties, especially the national religious factions like Yamina, will be strongly opposed to upsetting the status quo, while the liberal progressive parties like Meretz and Labor will see an opportunity to finally break what they consider the imposition of religious laws.
Added to that is the dedication of the secular right-wing party Yisrael Beiteinu to finally see ultra-Orthodox Jews do national service alongside all their other Jewish countrymen, something the top rabbis vehemently oppose.
- Responsibility for early childhood will be transferred to the Ministry of Education. This is aimed at helping Israeli families bear the cost of needing both parents to work when there are children under the age of 3 in the house;
- Define and teach a “national goal” to encourage full integration into the labor market to ensure the economic future of the State of Israel. This seems aimed at pushing fuller integration of the Arab and ultra-Orthodox Jewish sectors into mainstream Israeli society;
- Increased funding for non-formal educational institutions, including youth and alumni movements, youth organizations, civil service programs, and military preparatory programs;
- Establishment of a university in the Galilee region;
- Work toward providing a “free” bachelor’s degree education in critical professions;
- Promote core studies among all Israeli students. This appears aimed at making sure ultra-Orthodox Jewish students learn all basics subjects in their separate religious educational system.
- Targets will be set to reduce carbon emissions in Israel, including a carbon pricing mechanism;
- Evacuation of pollution by factories and power plants in the Bay of Haifa;
- Promoting renewable energy and taking measures to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
- Adoption of the conclusions of the inter-ministerial committee for the prevention of violence against women and other forms of domestic violence;
- Establishment of an emergency system for women in times of crisis;
- Repeal of the statute of limitations on all sexual offenses and violence against minors;
- Establishment of dedicated departments for sexual offenses in the police, the State Attorney’s Office and the courts;
- The government commits to working to create full equality between men and women.
- The demographic coefficient of the health basket will be amended to reflect the aging of the population;
- A fixed annual increase of 1.65% of the cost of the health services basket for the purpose of adding new drugs, equipment and medical technologies;
- The health cost index will be updated to include a ‘day of hospitalization” price index.
Whether or not the new government will last long enough to implement even half of these policies remains to be seen. This is Israel, after all.