Israel's Small, Right-wing Government

As much as the new Netanyahu government might long for change domestically, its foreign policy is a concern.

Israel’s 33rd government, to be sworn in next week, will differ significantly from its predecessor. It will have only 22 ministers and no ministers without portfolio, and all its senior ministers, except for the premier, will be new. Two coalition leaders, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali Bennett, will head key economic ministries − with no political experience.

The coalition agreements between the Likud-Beiteinu slate, Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi promise constitutional and social reforms like raising the electoral threshold to 4 percent from 2 percent, a new law on the draft and enforcing a core curriculum for the ultra-Orthodox education system. Relegating Shas and United Torah Judaism to the opposition is meant to change priorities and begin the integration of the ultra-Orthodox into the army, national service and the labor market.

But as much as the new Netanyahu government might long for change domestically, its foreign policy is a concern. The right wing will enjoy a clear majority in the cabinet and in the ministries in charge of planning and construction in the West Bank; defense, housing, interior and economy have been given over to the settlers and their political allies.

This portends a concerted effort to expand the settlements and deepen the creeping annexation of the West Bank. Such policies will thwart the two-state solution, worsen Israel’s international isolation and perpetuate the conflict. Lip service on “renewing talks” will not conceal the harmful facts on the ground. The extreme right has become significantly stronger in the third Netanyahu government, following the elimination of Likud’s liberal wing. This process was completed last week with the dismissal of MK Reuven Rivlin as Knesset speaker.

The ministers from Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi are bad news for the state’s relationship with the Arab minority and the protection of democracy, freedom of speech and protest. The handful of moderate ministers from Yesh Atid and Hatnuah will bear a heavy responsibility for stopping anti-democratic legislation in the face of pressure from their right-wing colleagues, who will be trying to strengthen the state’s authority and erode human and civil rights.