At last, the wind of political change is blowing over Israel. However, everyone is still wondering how intense this wind will be and in which direction it will blow.
First, the head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, “Sokhnut” Isaac Herzog who deals with repatriation to Israel and aid for the repatriates was elected the 11th President of the State of Israel in a secret ballot in the Knesset (parliament) on June 2. Isaac Herzog will succeed Reuven Rivlin as President next month on July 9, after completion by the latter of his seven-year term. According to the law, the President of the State of Israel is out of politics and represents all citizens of the country. Note that there is a seven-year term of the presidential office in Israel, and the position of Head of State cannot be held twice. Furthermore, the president can only be removed from office by parliament if 75% of the deputies vote for impeachment.
Observers in Israel particularly noted that Acting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally congratulated Isaac Herzog on his election win in the Knesset. The politicians have known each other for decades. They were opponents in parliamentary elections when Herzog was the head of the left-wing Labor Party HaAvoda. The Israeli Labor Party Mifleget HaAvoda HaYisrelit is a center-left party. In terms of economic development, it adheres to the Third Way theory. The party is a member of the Progressive Alliance.
Isaac Herzog is a former head of Israel’s Labor Party which he joined when he left the HaAvoda. He is the son of the sixth President of Israel Chaim Herzog, and grandson of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel. As a young man, he studied law in Tel Aviv and New York, then served in Israeli military intelligence, from which he left at the rank of major.
Isaak Herzog began his professional career as a cabinet secretary under Prime Minister Ehud Barak, an Israeli general and politician who from 1999 to 2001 was the tenth Prime Minister of Israel and was also the Labor Party leader. He was then appointed head of the Israel Anti-Drug Authority, later taking a seat as a deputy in the Knesset. In 2005, Herzog became head of the Ministry of Construction and Housing, focusing on helping the Arab sector and providing affordable housing for those in need. In 2006 he was head of the Ministry of Tourism. In 2007, he became Minister of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services and Minister of the Diaspora Affairs fighting anti-semitism. Herzog did not leave government until 2010, later becoming head of the Labor Party and then head of the Jewish Agency “Sokhnut.”
During his political career, Herzog showed himself as a supporter of a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict according to the concept of “two states for two peoples,” which involves creating an independent State of Palestine along with the Jewish State of Israel.
It is well known that the presidential elections in Israel are mainly ceremonial, the primary duties of the head of state being to sign Knesset decisions and choose one parliamentarian who will be responsible for forming the new government. The real power in the country is in the hands of parliament and the prime minister.
Therefore, against this background, another significant event in the political firmament was the struggle for the post of Prime Minister of Israel in recent days. For the time being, the government is headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, whose position on Palestine is fundamentally different from Herzog’s. However, since early 2020, Netanyahu has been under investigation for corruption. In early May, he lost his presidential mandate to form a new government.
On June 2, the parties in opposition to Netanyahu’s policies and the “Arab forces,” for the first time in 12 years, formed a government without the much-criticized in Israeli society Benjamin Netanyahu. Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, signed a coalition agreement with Gideon Saar, head of the New Hope party, to establish a new Israeli government. Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Yamina party, will be the first to lead the government for two years. After that, Lapid will take over for the remaining two years until the new elections. However, before the new government can be sworn in, it must be approved by parliament. “We expect the Knesset to meet as soon as possible to approve the government,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, still in office, said during a June 2 phone call with Lapid.
The success of the opposition forces can only mean one thing, the beginning of preparations for the Knesset vote of confidence in the new cabinet. This success will indeed mark the end of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12 years in power and the end of his foreign and domestic policies. There will be a court decision on earlier corruption charges against Netanyahu – something he has been carefully trying to avoid for the last two years while remaining the prime minister and immune for this reason.
According to Israeli law, the vote on the new government must take place within a week of the president’s notification of his readiness to form a cabinet. However, The Jerusalem Post sources claim that Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin of Likud may delay the vote as long as possible, giving the Prime Minister time to launch a counterattack and break up the new coalition. Under such conditions, the approval of the new cabinet may be postponed until June 9.
According to some observers, Netanyahu will undoubtedly actively try to break up the new government coalition. This task may not be difficult for him since it is unsustainable, consisting of right-wing, left-wing, and centrist parties with different opinions on many important issues. In addition, it will be the first cabinet in which the Arab parties will be an integral part, along with their unified desire to remove Netanyahu from power. There is speculation that the current coalition will find common ground in solving the state’s economic problems but most likely won’t agree on other issues. And this is partly confirmed by the results of the last coalition talks, during which the sides did not raise sensitive issues, not discussing, in particular, how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So far, the main arguments have been mainly about the distribution of future ministerial portfolios and several other issues.
It should be recalled that Benjamin Netanyahu has led the Israeli government since 2009. Meanwhile, amid numerous accusations against Netanyahu and his efforts to remain in the premiership, there has been an ongoing crisis in the country for the past two years over his inability to form a government. During this time, there have already been four election campaigns for the Knesset, the last being in March 2021. At least 61 members of parliament must vote for the new government. If this does not happen, the Knesset will be dissolved, and the next election could take place in the fall of 2021.
Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.