Israel’s Governing Coalition Struggles with Inexperience and Growing Pains

July 21, 2021 | Haviv Rettig Gur
About the author: Haviv Rettig Gur is the senior analyst for the Times of Israel.

Last week, one of the Bennett-Lapid government’s key bills failed to pass by a single vote—because the speaker of the Knesset accidentally voted the wrong way. Previously, an even more important piece of legislation, necessary to maintain the coalition, couldn’t be advanced due to the absence of a quorum. These were just two of several setbacks in the past week, and speak to the fragility of a fissiparous coalition with a thin majority in the Knesset. But that’s not the only reason for these woes, explains Haviv Rettig Gur:

The Likud-led opposition is part of the story. It has adopted a scorched-earth strategy in the Knesset, voting against every bill and measure irrespective of its substance, on the principle that denying the coalition successes is the priority. . . . Yet the failures last week weren’t really the opposition’s fault. The coalition had the numbers, but couldn’t marshal and manage them effectively.

Some of these growing pains are expected. As noted by many, the coalition chair, the Yamina party’s Idit Silman, is one of the least experienced coalition whips in the Knesset’s history. But even that doesn’t tell the whole story. . . . After twelve years of mostly Likud rule, the opposition parties are mostly parliamentary neophytes. New Hope’s cadre of grizzled ex-Likudniks aside, the new government is the first experience in power for most coalition members.

The experience deficit runs from the very top to the very bottom. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid have both spent the past few years famously uninvolved in parliamentary wheeling and dealing. Bennett has been a cabinet minister for nearly the entirety of the past eight years, while Lapid left his party’s legislating to backbenchers. Bennett and Lapid, then, are nearly as unfamiliar with the Knesset’s ways and procedures as the neophyte Silman. There’s a parliamentary leadership vacuum at the heart of the new coalition.

What happened last week wasn’t a strategic setback, only a tactical one. The coalition can make up much of the lost ground relatively easily. . . . Still, there’s precious little wriggle room going forward. There are scarcely two weeks left until the early-August cabinet vote on the state budget law. . . . If the budget law doesn’t pass by November 4, then by law the Knesset dissolves to new elections.

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