Abstract: As the new Israeli cabinet is finally sworn in and the debate on an annexation plan for the occupied territories in the West Bank is underway, the question of what foreign policy agenda Israel will follow is crucial. This paper aims to evaluate how Israel’s relations with both global and regional actors will take  shape, particularly with regard to the annexation plan. It is argued that despite the impression of change in Israel’s relations with its global and regional partners, these expectations can now be fizzled out because of the relatively entrenched dynamics of the region after the Arab Uprisings.

Introduction

Following a political abeyance for more than one year with three elections, a coalition government was eventually formed in Israel. The two biggest political parties in the last three elections, the Likud led by Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White led by Benny Gantz, announced their coalition agreement on April 20th. Under the terms of the deal, Netanyahu will be prime minister until November 17, 2021, while Gantz will be serving as vice prime minister. In the event of Netanyahu having to leave his post earlier to go on trial for the  three pending cases against him, Gantz is to take over the role. On May 17th, the cabinet was sworn in amidst doubts raised about its formation and efficiency in solving urgent political and economic problems and its future amidst the need for political stability. The cabinet with 36 seats became the largest government in Israel’s history since 1948 and constituted a ragbag of political parties, including six small parties other than the main coalition partners.

The political situation in Israel after the third election was in a stalemate quite similar to the previous two elections and there was an expectation of heading to a fourth election.[i] Yet, the groundbreaking incident was when Gantz’ nominated himself to become the new speaker of the Knesset on March 26 and began talks with Netanyahu to form a coalition, leading to a split within the Blue and White and causing Yesh Atid (led by Yair Lapid) and Telem (led by Moshe Yaalon) to part ways with him.[ii] With this step, a unity government –the most plausible option[iii] – could be formed with a coalition of 73 lawmakers (35 MKs from the Likud party, 16 from the Blue and White party (Gantz maintained the name of the party instead of his Israel Resilience Party [Hosen L’Israel]), 9 from the Shas party, 7 from the United Torah Judaism [UTJ] party, 2 from the Labor party, 2 from the Derech Eretz party, 1 from the Jewish Home party and 1 from the Gesher party).[iv]

Regarding the parties that remained outside of the coalition, the most striking development was the far-right Yamina party’s exclusion under Netanyahu’s demand. Although senior figures such as Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked were former partners of the coalition government, Netanyahu excluded the party on the grounds of their excessive demands in terms of ministerial seats. This development within right-wing politics in Israel overshadowed the frustration among the Joint List ranks, who recommended Gantz as a candidate for the PM position and the isolation of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, which reveals to what extent  Avigdor Lieberman-led party has lost its “king-maker” position. 

[i] “Israel ‘Heading towards Record Fourth Election,’” BBC News, April 17, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-52322379.

[ii] “Israel’s Blue and White Party Splits as Gantz Elected Knesset Speaker,” Middle East Eye, accessed June 1, 2020, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-blue-and-white-party-verge-dissolving.

[iii] Fatih Şemsettin Işık, “After Two Israeli Elections: Unity Government or A Third Election on the Horizon?,” Al Sharq Think Tank, October 24, 2019, https://research.sharqforum.org/2019/10/24/after-two-israeli-elections-unity-government-or-a-third-election-on-the-horizon/.

[iv] Jacob Magid, “After 508-Day Crisis, Israel’s New Government Finally Sworn in by Knesset,” accessed June 1, 2020, https://www.timesofisrael.com/ending-political-crisis-new-government-sworn-in-by-knesset/.

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