Bennett's First 100 Days: Arguments, Disputes – and Compromises

Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov
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Illustration: The Knesset.
Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov

When the Bennett-Lapid government was formed June 13, the guiding policy was that on 80 percent of the issues all the coalition partners, from the United Arab List and rightward, up to Yamina, can agree. The remaining 20 percent everyone would set aside. But after 100 days, it seems that what sounded strange in principle has turned out to be very complicated in reality.

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Arguments and disputes have always been common in coalition governments (and especially if the coalition has only 61 votes in the Knesset), but in the present government they seem to be far more common. Although the government is functioning, the state budget will probably pass, and relations among the ministers are good – all that comes at the price of compromise. And not only one.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem, on MondayCredit: POOL/ REUTERS

Naftali Bennett, Yair Lapid, Merav Michaeli, Avigdor Lieberman and their fellow government ministers have discovered that the difference between them is greater than the 20 percent representing the conflict with the Palestinians – it can be found in almost every decision. Meanwhile it ends in many compromises.

Haaretz mapped the decisions made by the government in its first 100 days and answered the questions: Who vs. whom? What was decided? And how did the story end – at least for the time being?

The Evyatar outpost

The Evyatar outpost, in JulyCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

Who vs. whom: Yamina vs. Labor and Meretz

Background: In response to the murder of Yehuda Guetta, and during Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip, settlers set up the illegal outpost of Evyatar on land belonging to three Palestinian villages – Beita, Qablan and Yatma.

The debate: Labor and Meretz demanded the immediate evacuation of the outpost, but Yamina has a record of opposition to evacuating settlements.

What was decided: Bennett and Gantz agreed on a plan that was not brought to a vote in the cabinet, to the effect that the residents of the outpost would leave the land on which they had settled, but the houses would remain in place and the government would once again examine the land’s status. If it turns out that the outpost can be legally “arranged,” the settlers will be able to return to their homes. According to the agreement, an army base will be built on the area of the outpost in the meantime and after a land survey, a hesder yeshiva will be built there.

The outcome: The government went out to survey the land. The status has not yet been determined.

The amendment to the Citizenship Law

A demonstration against the Citizenship Law, in JulyCredit: Emil Salman

Who vs. whom: United Arab List, Meretz and Labor vs. Yamina, New Hope, Yisrael Beiteinu and Yesh Atid

Background: A temporary amendment to the Citizenship Law preventing family unification between Israeli-Palestinian couples was about to expire, and the coalition realized that it was having difficulty recruiting a majority for extending its validity due to resistence within the coalition and the refusal of the opposition to help.

The debate: Meretz (which for years voted against the amendment) along with the United Arab List (the amendment is a sensitive subject for some of its voters) and Labor MKs, primarily Ibtisam Mara’ana, expressed vehement opposition to extending the validity of the law. Meanwhile, the coalition members voted to pass it.

What was decided: After nighttime negotiations it was agreed that the law would be extended by only half a year, and hundreds or thousands of couples would receive an upgraded status for humanitarian reasons. Passing the amendment to the law was defined as a vote of confidence in the government.

The outcome: lawmaker Amichai Chikli of Yamina voted against the law and two MKs from the United Arab List abstained, and there was a 59-59 tie. The amendment did not pass and the emergency order expired. In effect, Interior Ministry Ayelet Shaked is preventing family unification on an individual basis.

Meetings with Palestinians

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in MayCredit: POOL/ REUTERS

Who vs. whom: Kahol Lavan and Meretz vs. Yamina (primarily) and the rest of the right-wing branch of the government.

Background: On August 30, Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Several weeks earlier Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, both of Meretz, met with their Palestinian counterparts – Mai al-Kaila and Jamil Matour.

The debate: At a time when the left side of the coalition map wants warmer relations with the PA, on the right they aren’t interested in renewing the diplomatic process (Shaked even went as far as to declare: “Bennett won’t meet with Abbas”), and are willing to have a professional relationship only.

What was decided: The Gantz-Abbas meeting became an explosive issue, including briefings circulated against the defense minister. At its conclusion Gantz said he had told Abbas that “Israel is ready for a series of steps that will strengthen the economy of the Palestinian Authority” and that they agreed to stay in touch. At the end of the meetings of the Meretz ministers, Horowitz and his counterpart decided that Israel would recognize the PA vaccination certificate, which should make it easier for Palestinians with work permits to come to work in Israel.

The outcome: Diplomatic sources estimate that there will be additional meetings.

Ban on indicted individual forming a government

Ayelet Shaked and Gideon Sa'ar in Jerusalem, last monthCredit: Emil Salman

Who vs. whom: New Hope vs. Yamina

Background: On the backdrop of the initiative that arose even before the formation of the government, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar ordered the professional echelon in his ministry to prepare a draft bill to the effect that the president of the country will not be able to impose the formation of the government on someone under indictment. If approved, the law will come into effect starting from the election for the 25th Knesset, and opposition chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, who is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, will not be able to receive the mandate to form a government.

The debate: Shaked is vehemently opposed to such a law, and Bennett has not said whether he will support or oppose it. A question mark also hovers above additional members of Yamina, who consider this decision one of the central political junctions in the life of the young party. On the other hand, Sa’ar is unwilling to compromise and claims that the issue is backed by the coalition agreements.

What was decided: Bennett gave a green light to draw up a draft bill in the Justice Ministry, but it has yet to be decided how the coalition will vote.

The outcome: The future of this law has not yet been decided, but Sa’ar has already announced an additional initiative: limiting the term of a prime minister to eight years. This law would not be applied retroactively and would not affect Netanyahu – and is meeting less resistance.

The eviction of Khan al-Ahmar

Khan al-Ahmar, 2018Credit: Maya Ben Nisan

Who vs. whom: Yesh Atid and United Arab List against Yamina, New Hope and Yisrael Beiteinu

Background: Three years after the High Court of Justice permitted the demolition of homes in the Palestinian village, the structures are still standing. In early September, the Bennett-Lapid government requested the High Court to grant an extension of another half a year in order to present a plan for a consensual evacuation.

The debate: The heads of the three right-wing parties in the coalition – Bennett, Sa’ar and Lieberman – had time after time slammed the Netanyahu government for its failure to act on the court’s decision. “If Naftali Bennett is elected prime minister, Khan al-Ahmar will be evacuated,” Yamina’s Shaked declared during the election campaign. However, Foreign Minister Lapid announced six weeks ago that he planned to reexamine the issue on the grounds that a forced evacuation would hurt Israel’s image overseas. Lapid’s remarks were coordinated with Bennett, even though it’s coming at the cost of embarrassing the coalition’s right wing.

What’s been decided: So far, nothing – it awaits a High Court decision.

Kashrut reform

Matan Kahana, in JuneCredit: Emil Salman

Who vs. whom: Yamina and Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana against the Haredi parties and Religious Zionism.

Background: In the context of election-time promises to institute changes in religion and state, Kahana proposed ending the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over kashrut. Under his plan, private organizations would be entitled to grant kashrut certificates in place of the Chief Rabbinate’s local religious councils.

The debate: The Haredi parties warned that the measure would endanger the enforcement of kashrut standards. Leading figures in Religious Zionism, including Rabbi Haim Druckman, have joined them.

What’s been decided: Following immense pressure, Kahana agreed to a compromise: The Chief Rabbinate’s city rabbis will also be able to grant certificates in their cities while the rabbinical supervisory committees of the new kashrut-granting bodies will be required to have current or former city rabbis serving on them.

The outcome: The reform has yet to win Knesset approval. Coalition sources say there’s no guarantee that it will, or that it will pass in its current format.

The ultra-Orthodox draft

An ultra-Orthodox protest in Jerusalem, in JuneCredit: Emil Salman

Who vs. whom: Kahol Lavan vs. Yamina vs. Yisrael Beiteinu.

Background: The government has struggled over the past two decades to pass a Haredi draft law. The third Netanyahu government fell due to disagreements over how to formulate a law that would be acceptable to the High Court. Now it is up to the current government to devise one. Acknowledging that Haredim won’t be drafted in large numbers, the government has sought instead to amend the existing law to encourage young ultra-Orthodox men to enter the labor market. Right now, a young man who has not been drafted can only legally get a job from age 24; the proposed legislation would lower that to 21. In all events, he would not be drafted.

The debate: Yisrael Beiteinu’s Lieberman was determined to pass the legislation, which was written as is when he was defense minister. Bennett and Yamina were focused on the economic aspect. Gantz’s Kahol Lavan wanted a completely new law that will change the face of military and civilian national service.

What was decided: The coalition agreements said the law should be passed as is and the exemption age lowered. But Gantz was not prepared to accept such a big drop in the exemption age. Eventually, Zeev Elkin suggested a compromise under which the age would be lowered to 21 for two years, rise to 23 in the third year and return to 24 in the fourth.

The outcome: The law was passed. Elkin’s compromise was accepted on the assumption that the matter will be revisited in another two years. If Gantz goes ahead with his reform plan, it will get cabinet consideration, but it’s doubtful that it will ever get that far.

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