Israel’s political turmoil and its consequences for internal dynamics
    Who are the winners and losers?

    ANALYTICS  29 March 2023 - 15:45

    Fuad Shahbazov

    In early 2023, mass protests erupted in Israel against the judicial reform proposed by the government of recently re-elected prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government. This builds on two months of mass mobilizations across Israel that have been squarely focused on the Netanyahu government’s set of judiciary overhauls, which would weaken the independence of the country's high court and create the conditions for unchecked majoritarian rule.

    The Israeli government has been pursuing changes that would limit the Supreme Court's powers to rule against the legislature and the executive, while according to coalition lawmakers, more power in appointing judges.

    The resistance against Netanyahu’s government has grown dramatically within a few weeks, as many governmental institutions, embassies overseas, air force pilots, local airlines, and Israel's biggest umbrella labour union group saw workers in sectors from transport to diplomacy walk off the job, which mounted pressure on Netanyahu significantly. Some three months since taking office, Netanyahu's nationalist-religious coalition has been plunged into crisis over the bitter divisions exposed by its flagship judicial overhaul plans.

    The deepening political crisis in the country forced some senior state officials, including President Isaac Herzog, to appeal to the government to postpone the reform package, as the political instability may reach the point of no return soon.

    Moreover, the schism likely occurred within Netanyahu's ultranationalist government, as the newly appointed Defense Minister Yoav Gallant opposed the government's law bill calling to postpone it due to growing security concerns. However, the minister's statement came at a higher cost, as he was quickly dismissed from the position without further statement. Netanyahu's decision to fire Gallant resulted from a trust crisis between him and his minister.

    As a result of the mounting discontent and threat of economic halt in light of mass strikes, PM Netanyahu had announced that he was halting the legislation process of the judicial overhaul until summer in an effort to reach a large national agreement, opening the way for the president to reopen a dialogue. In line with it, PM Netanyahu was willing to demonstrate its firm stance regarding the newly proposed judiciary reform while largely ignoring public opinion. Even opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz issued a joint statement condemning Netanyahu's moves.

    Having caved to public and international pressure against the judicial overhaul, Netanyahu is the biggest loser to come out of recent events. Quick polls conducted Monday night by several of the country's leading media outlets highlight the intensity of the unfolding drama. Also, stepping back from the earlier position would mean that Netanyahu is under increasing pressure from his own party due to sparkling violence and internal instability.

    Indeed, such political instability downgraded the chances of Benjamin Netanyahu for a long tenure while increasing the chances of prominent opposition leaders, such as the former defence minister and the leader of the National Unit Party, Bennie Gantz. Polls showed that Gantz almost doubled his support among the electorate so that if a snap election were held now, he would pass the 20-seat threshold.

    Although Gantz does not push for a radical agenda against Netanyahu’s government, his counterpart Yair Lapid retains a more hawkish and uncompromising approach to the current government and Netanyahu. While Gantz has been calling for direct talks with Netanyahu and the Likud, Lapid is seen as taking a more uncompromising, less conciliatory approach.

    Political figures like Lapid are confident that such a sharp fragmentation of the society would negatively affect the country's vulnerable security, particularly amid rising tensions with Iran. Unlike Lapid, Gantz believes the current political turmoil may be resolved through political dialogue with the ruling cabinet. Notwithstanding the different visionary, Gantz, Lapid, and Netanyahu are strictly bound with the same pragmatic approach, countering Iran.

    Within this framework, the ruling government actively seeks new partnerships with regional and non-regional countries, including the Gulf monarchies and Azerbaijan. The latter is bordering with Iran and has recently witnessed growing diplomatic rifts. Therefore, Baku and Tel Aviv boosted for deeper engagement, culminating in the inauguration of the first-ever embassy of Azerbaijan in Israel on March 29, 2023. Nevertheless, the end of the current political turmoil in Israel is not on the horizon, and political reconciliation is still far.


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