Cracks Over How to Tackle Terror and High Costs of Living: Is Israel Heading to 5th Round of Polls?
Despite attempts to show business as usual, the current Israeli coalition, comprised of eight parties with opposing ideologies, has struggled to come to terms on a number of important issues.
Public dissatisfaction with the government has also been growing, and that could serve as a trigger for yet another general election.
In June 2021, when the government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was sworn in, critics predicted it would fall apart within months.
They also warned that a coalition comprised of eight parties with conflicting ideologies would not be able to find common ground and would not see eye-to-eye on the most pressing issues that concern Israeli society, such as the status of Jerusalem, the handling of terror, and the high costs of living.
Yet for the past nine months, the Bennett coalition has stuck together, but a growing number of voices are now saying it won't be for too long.
What are the main reasons for this? Sputnik breaks it down.
Wave of Terror:
The past several weeks have been exceptionally difficult for Israel. First it was an Israeli Bedouin, who killed four countrymen in the southern city of Beer Sheba.
Then it was a terrorist attack in Hadera, central Israel, where two Arab Israelis opened fire and killed two border police officers. Several days later, it was a deadly assault in Bnei Brak, where five Israelis lost their lives. And on Thursday night, it was an assault in the centre of Tel Aviv.
Shortly after the Bnei Brak attack, Bennett released a statement calling to uproot "the Arab terror" that has been sweeping Israel. However, by doing so, he provoked the ire of his foreign minister and alternate PM, Yair Lapid, who reportedly slammed the prime minister for the use of problematic words.
"It is incorrect to use the words 'Arab terror'. The Americans will criticise it. And the Palestinians will do so too", Lapid was reported as saying.
Later, the foreign minister tried to diminish the conflict between him and Bennett. He claimed that the criticism was not directed at the PM, but the chasm in approaches between the two is obvious.
Bennett and his conservative Yamina party have always been considered as hardliners when it comes to terror. They were the ones calling for the death penalty for Palestinian terrorists and they were also those who were advocating for the punishment of the Palestinian Authority, which transfers monthly salaries to its inmates imprisoned in Israel.
On the contrary, Lapid and other liberals in the Bennett coalition, including Defence Minister Benny Gantz and Minister of Public Security Omer Bar Lev, have been calling for a milder approach to be taken.
So far, Bennett has tried to conform with their line to keep the coalition intact, but if terror keeps rearing its head, the PM and his party might take a harsher stance and that could eventually lead to the break-up of the current government.
Divided over Ukraine?
Since the beginning of Russia's military operation in Ukraine on 24 February, Israel has been trying its best to keep itself out of the conflict.
The Jewish state refused to join Western sanctions against Moscow, and it declined Ukrainian calls to provide the country with ammunition and technologies.
Yet, to please the Americans, Israel's biggest ally, officials in Jerusalem were forced to give concessions and one of them was the admission of thousands of Ukrainian refugees, 90 percent of whom were not Jewish.
Initially, Minister of the Interior Ayelet Shaked, a member of Bennett's Yamina, was willing to receive a limited number of refugees. She also demanded that any newcomer deposit a sum of slightly more than $3,000 as a guarantee for them to leave Israel when the military campaign is over.
However, the outrage that followed shortly after caught Shaked off guard. That criticism not only stemmed from the liberals in the coalition that generally favour the admission of refugees, but it also came from conservatives, who typically oppose the acceptance of newcomers unless they are Jewish.
That pressure has finally done the trick. The deposit has been removed and Israel has already allowed over 15,000 refugees. As more asylum seekers keep pouring in, tensions in the coalition might erupt again and there are no guarantees that this crack will not lead to the dismantling of the bloc.
Another point of friction has been the high living expenses and the government’s inconsistency in handling the surge in prices.
In a bid to tackle the issue, the Minister of Finance Avigdor Lieberman decided to lower the quotas on imported fruits and vegetables, a move that was designed to open Israel up for competition and lower the high costs on basic foods.
However, his decision has faced a staunch opposition from members of his own coalition, primarily Labour, Meretz, and the Blue and White parties, who reiterated that Lieberman's decision will end up hurting Israeli farmers who will not be able to cope with foreign competitors.
For now, Lieberman has managed to keep objectors at bay. However, with food prices constantly growing, the task of subduing critics might become a hard nut to crack even for one of the strongest Israeli ministers.
Meanwhile, apart from cracks in the coalition, the country's public has also shown that it is largely dissatisfied with the functioning of the current government.
A recent poll -- conducted by Channel 12 -- revealed that 58 percent of those asked were displeased with the way the government has been handling the recent security threats.
That same survey also showed that 66 percent were unhappy with how the economic situation has been tackled. As public discontent grows, it might be a little easier for some members of the coalition to break it.
Idit Silman, a member of Yamina, has become a harbinger, and her departure has left Bennett without a majority in the Israeli parliament. However, she is probably not the only one.
It is not yet clear who the next defector might be, but if it happens, Israel will head to the polls – for the fifth time since 2019.