Israeli politics has been difficult for Americans to decipher. This has been the case for our media, supporters and even detractors of Israel. The behavior of Israeli politicians and their in-your-face approach, has led many in the US to view Israeli politics as helplessly stuck, acrimonious and dysfunctional.
The frequent and close elections have produced no clear winners. However, it is important to view the facts for what they are and not for what American-centric pundits spew in our media.
Here are ten observations from my time back in Israel this spring — key points that may get lost in translation:
1. Israel managed to get through a pandemic with relatively little economic disruption even when being governed by an interim government.
2. The recent war in Gaza was managed effectively. The IDF emerged ready to handle future conflicts. The alleged disfunctionaly of recent Israeli governments did not impact the preparedness of the IDF.
3. With Covid cases almost at zero and most restrictions in Israel lifted, the Israeli public health system proved to be both resilient and efficient.
4. The recent warming relations with friendly Arab regimes remains on track for further improvement and expansion.
5. The new coalition government — when and if it’s sworn in — represents an unusually pragmatic group of parties, including an Israeli Islamist party. This is a first in the history of Israel and does point out to the vibrancy of Israeli democracy. So much for branding Israel an apartheid state.
It’s also important to note that the Arab party joining the coalition is giving up on the long tradition of Israeli Arab parties representing the interests of the Palestinian Authority rather than the interests of their Israeli Arab voters. In spite of recent violence between Israeli Arabs and Jews, the Arab party joining the coalition is taking a long-term view. Again, a very positive development.
6. The success of the new government and its chances of survival depend on focusing on internal issues. This may prove to be a successful approach since, in the current situation in the Middle East, there do not appear to be any bold new initiatives for solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the near future. The state of Palestinian politics and the irreparable spilt between Hamas and the PA shows little sign of changing. This Palestinian political paralysis actually increases the prospects of survival for the new coalition.
When it comes to dealing with Iran, this new coalition is 100% on the same track as previous coalitions. The style may be different and there will be less public disagreements with the US on issues related to Iran, but just like the outgoing coalition, the new coalition has the same concerns about Iran’s endgame.
7. The Bibi myth has come to an end. Yes, there are quite a few Israelis (and plenty of Americans) who think that only Bibi can govern Israel. But it turns out that Israel’s second largest party, led by the pragmatic and astute politician, Yair Lapid, was able to break the cycle and gather a wide, center-based coalition. Again, a first in the history of Israel.
8. Naftali Bennett has demonstrated leadership and national responsibility by taking the plunge. It remains to be seen how effective he will be as a PM but his ability to stay the course through this process is indeed impressive.
9. Don’t count Bibi out yet. He remains one of the most successful and resilient politicians in the history of Israel. Being in the opposition is not something he was expecting, but if history is any guide here, he is not planning to retire.
10. Don’t mistake Israeli political shenanigans for the real story here. The real story is how well is Israel doing economically and strategically in a very difficult corner of the world.
Of course, this entire process could unravel in the next couple of days, which is why I am being cautious with my optimistism.