The Obstacles Awaiting Israel's New Lapid-Bennett Government

If Bennett and Lapid do succeed in forming a coalition, these are some of the issues that may endanger their success

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Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid at the Knesset in 2014.
Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid at the Knesset in 2014.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov

Israel's new government, led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, will be forced to deal with a long list of internal disagreements stemming from the very different ideologies of the parties making up the coalition. That is, if they are ever actually sworn in.

There have been attempts to avoid addressing these disagreements – for example, the freeze on private legislation or the submission of bills only with broad agreement – but for government ministries there are a number of disputed issues, which the new government will be unable to ignore.

This is how a decision not to pave a new road in the West Bank could very well rock the already fragile coalition.

The Interior Ministry and asylum seekers

The most explosive issue that could face Ayelet Shaked, if and when she is appointed interior minister, is the handling of asylum seekers from Africa. In the last election, Yamina issued its “Shaked plan to promote immigration policy.”

Ayelet Shaked last week in Jerusalem.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

In a post from January on her Facebook page, she wrote: “In the past decades, many have begun to migrate to Israel in order to improve their quality of life, a trend that is growing and getting worse and is even threatening to reverse the natural order, so that Jewish aliyah will become the minority among the stream coming to Israel. In the next government we will make the advancement of a responsible immigration policy for Israel an important strategic goal.”

Shaked has said that she will act to advance the “law against infiltration, which was ruled unconstitutional three times by the High Court of Justice,” and she will also act to repatriate Sudanese migrants following Israel’s peace accord with Sudan.

Most of the Shaked plan requires legislation, and to achieve this she must reach widespread consensus among the different parties – some of whom vehemently object to her plan. But as interior minister she would have the ability to continue to delay the examination of asylum requests of those already in Israel. Haaretz reported in the past that the state has not dealt with or has rejected without full examination 99.7 percent of asylum requests since 2011, even though many lawsuits have been filed against the Interior Ministry on the matter. Shaked could very well continue with this, or even make the existing policy stricter.

At the same time, Meretz and Labor have raised the importance of dealing with the issue a number of times. They want to advance laws to expand the rights of asylum seekers in Israel, and have called to change the ministry’s existing policy.

The Transportation Ministry and work in the West Bank

Miri Regev, as transportation minister, advanced a master plan to build roads across the West Bank. Other plans are now in various stages of planning and work throughout the entire region. Regev’s expected replacement is Labor party chairwoman Merav Michaeli, who will be forced to set priorities and decide on these matters too.

Michaeli has said in the past that too many resources are intended for projects and buildings in the West Bank. In a number of interviews she said that “all the energy is going to Judea and Samaria, instead of the Negev and Galilee.”

Merav Michaeli in Jerusalem in May.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

One can assume that Michaeli will implement her ideological policies to some extent in the Transportation Ministry, but it is important to remember that a minister does not have unlimited room to maneuver, and in the end, she too is bound to the recommendations of her professional staff.

The Justice Ministry and the role of attorney general

New Hope made two major demands in the coalition negotiations concerning the legal system. The first demand of party chairman Gideon Sa’ar was to divide the job of attorney general into two: the attorney general and the prosecutor general.

Sa’ar wants to shift the prosecutorial authority of the attorney general to the state prosecutor because of the “extreme concentration of authority” the attorney general has today, and because of the situation in which a single person advises the prime minister and cabinet on policy matters – and also orders investigations and trials –“is not logical and has an inherent conflict of interest.” The role of the attorney general is not set in law, but is based on cabinet resolutions, so the separation of the authority does not require legislation.

Gideon Sa'ar at a press conference on Monday.Credit: Emil Salman

Sa’ar’s second demand was to hold hearings for candidates for the Supreme Court in the Knesset before their appointment. Such a hearing is accepted in many countries, such as the United States, but it is still unclear how Sa’ar wants to implement it.

Sa’ar’s main demand during the coalition negotiations was the first one, splitting the attorney general’s role. It will be very hard to agree to this demand, because of the center-left parties, said sources involved in the negotiations. A compromise will most likely be found in the end, but Sa’ar is insisting on including a section in the coalition agreement for the immediate implementation of the change.

The Education Ministry and involvement in content

The terms of the recent education ministers were characterized by heavy criticism over the choice of ministers – supposedly professional decisions, but which were seen as political. During the term of Education Ministers Naftali Bennett and Rafi Peretz, they were slammed over budgeting and prioritizing the Religious Education Administration, and the introduction of religious and traditional content into the curriculum.

Claims were made that the ministry improperly interfered in content of teaching materials. For example, when under Bennett, the ministry removed the book “All the Rivers” by Dorit Rabinyan to the required reading list for the matriculation exam in literature for allegedly political considerations.

Yoav Gallant in Netanya in February.Credit: Hadas Parush

Similar claims have been made against the current education minister, Yoav Gallant, including his decision to forbid groups such as B’Tselem and others “who call Israel an apartheid state” from giving lectures in schools.

Yifat Shasha Biton from New Hope is expected to be appointed education minister. She has a doctorate in education and worked as a teacher. She will face similar tests to those that faced her predecessors on the question of involvement in educational materials. The minister has broad authority over such matters, and does not require issuing new regulations or legislation – so it is not possible to enforce them through coalition agreements.

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