lipner1_ARIEL SCHALITPOOLAFP via Getty Images_bennett ARIEL SCHALITPOOLAFP via Getty Images

Escaping Bibi's Shadow

Open policy conflicts within Israel’s ideologically diverse government could ultimately render the fragile coalition untenable. Unless Prime Minister Naftali Bennett shows great political acumen in the months ahead, his predecessor, Binyamin Netanyahu, may yet exact revenge on his onetime acolyte.

JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett returned from this month’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) feeling buoyant. Hobnobbing with world leaders in Scotland lent credibility to his projected image as a worthy replacement to Binyamin Netanyahu, his polarizing and larger-than-life predecessor who reigned supreme over Israel for more than 12 years. But Bennett’s momentum – and his government – could be short-lived unless he is able to exercise prudent leadership in the months ahead.

In November, Israel’s Knesset (parliament) passed new budget frameworks for 2021 and 2022 – a huge achievement for Bennett, given that the Knesset had not ratified a fiscal plan since March 2018. This triumph is a double-edged sword, however, because it might easily unleash political forces to precipitate his government’s early demise.

The Israeli cabinet is literally a team of rivals, comprising ministers affiliated with the country’s ideological right, center, and left. Their commitment to working together was forged in the crucible of their shared antipathy toward Netanyahu. A similar aversion to Netanyahu’s comportment and policies has been prevalent in certain foreign capitals, where leaders bristle at the prospect of his possible return to power. This has given Bennett additional ballast and mitigated what would likely have been more vocal international criticism of Israel had Netanyahu remained in charge. In fact, Netanyahu is the proverbial superglue that has secured his successor tightly in place thus far.

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