The first three months of 2023 witnessed unprecedented internal developments in Israel, with the exacerbation of internal polarization and exchange of accusations against the backdrop of the Israeli government’s implementation of its legal and judicial reform. This has plunged the Israeli society into a state of chaos and massive demonstrations, causing widespread paralysis that affected most economic and trade union facilities. It was coupled with international pressure, particularly from Washington, that asked the Israeli government to stop what the Israeli opposition describes as a “judicial coup,” thus forcing it to freeze its legal plan. All is pending the outcome of the round table negotiations with the opposition, which has not achieved any actual breakthrough. As a result, this would make late April, following the end of the Jewish holidays, a date for renewed, and maybe more severe, internal protests.
In light of these developments, al-Zaytouna Centre published its Strategic Assessment 132, in Arabic, entitled “The ‘Temporary’ Israeli Retreat from the Judicial Coup: Background and Future Possibilities,” which sheds light on the internal and external reasons for the right-wing government’s retraction from its judicial coup. It explores whether the freeze is permanent or a temporary tactical step pending a change in circumstances, or a decline in the intensity of the opposition. It raises questions about the reasons for the government’s failure to pass its plans, despite it having a strong parliamentary backup alongside the highly experienced and capable personality of its head.
The Assessment reviews the future scenarios that the crisis of legal plan may witness, where neither the coalition nor the opposition may resolve matters totally to their benefit.
In the first scenario, the Assessment expects the continuation of the legal plan, as the government postponed it while having negotiations with the opposition. However, the government may advance its plan, using other tools to circumvent the settlement presented by Herzog, hence reducing the powers of the judicial authority in favor of the executive authority. In this case, the demonstrations are expected to return, and in a more intense manner.
In the second scenario, the Assessment expects the reconstitution of the government. The internal developments in the past three months have revived what the Israelis see as “Plan B,” which calls for replacing the current government, formed under the leadership of the Likud from the fascist right-wing parties such as Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), Shas and United Torah Judaism, with a new government formed by Likud, the National Camp, Labor, There is a Future and Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel our Home). This is to absorb popular anger and calm the tension with Washington, which announced more than once its rejection of the current government formation, and refused to receive a number of its ministers, especially Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.
The third scenario suggests holding early elections. Since 2019, the Israeli political and partisan scene has been unstable, prompting five early elections in less than four years, until Netanyahu had the opportunity to form his sixth government. The Assessment wonders if the Israelis would be forced to hold a sixth early elections to get out of the bottleneck, should internal mediation efforts and external pressures fail. It asserts that what makes this option possible is the sudden change in the electoral balances of the main party blocs. Opinion polls indicate the decline of Likud’s popularity while that of the National Camp has increased, which may push the opposition to go for early elections.
In light of the unpredictable situation facing the Israeli arena, the overlapping of internal and external factors and the large number of players, the Assessment finds it difficulty to come up with the most likely scenario. However, it gave preponderance to the second one, which is the re-formation of the government, considering it the least costly scenario, especially in light of the security risks and military threats facing Israel that may urge it to calm down the internal front and focus on facing external challenges.
Many factors make this the most likely scenario, including that fact that the differences concerning the general political issues between the Likud and the rest of the right and center camps are negligible. Second, this camp fears, if it remains in the opposition, that the ruling fascist right will be able to change the face of the state absolutely. Third, this option enjoys the support of Washington whose ambassador in Tel Aviv, Tom Nides, is trying to find a consensual formula among the Israeli parties.
The Assessment expects that the path to such a scenario will not be easy, in light of the ruling right’s fears of losing its exclusive power, squandering what it considers the historic opportunity it had in the November 2022 elections and fears of splitting Likud’s ranks, especially of its more right-wing elements. It also indicates that this option needs guarantees that Netanyahu insists on; which is for the upcoming coalition to pledge his acquittal from any future trials, a request that will not be easy to achieve due to partisan and judicial considerations.
The Arabic version of this Assessment was published on 6/4/2023
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