Co-authored by Daniel C. Kurtzer and Aaron David Miller
For the first time in more than a decade, it looks as though Benjamin Netanyahu will soon be out of power in Israel. What many assumed would play to the longtime prime minister’s advantage and scuttle efforts to replace him — the recent mini-war with Hamas — has instead led to one of the most surprising turns in Israeli politics in years.
Just before midnight Israel time on Wednesday, Yesh Atid party head Yair Lapid informed Israel’s president that he had formed a coalition comprised of eight parties — including, for the first time, an Arab-Israeli party. According to the coalition agreement, Naftali Bennett of the Yamina party will serve first as prime minister, followed by Lapid in 2023. The next step is for the Knesset to vote to approve the deal, and there are still some outstanding questions remaining. But barring any unforeseen developments, Netanyahu’s 12-year tenure will end within a fortnight.
The new government will be a welcome respite for a U.S. president busy with domestic politics and eager to avoid a fight with Israel. The new prime minister, the right-wing Bennett, will be preoccupied with managing an unwieldy coalition. He’s likely to lower the temperature with Washington, temporarily subvert Netanyahu’s obsession with blocking the Iran nuclear accord, and try to refrain from provocative actions toward Palestinians certain to rile his centrist and left-wing partners and collapse the fragile government.
Biden’s team should anticipate a few months of calm on the Palestinian issue and the Iran nuclear deal — thanks as much to gridlock in the Knesset as to Jerusalem’s desire to smooth relations with Washington. But they shouldn’t forget that Bennett is an ideologue farther to the right than Netanyahu. The new prime minister’s hardline credentials and the machinations of right-wing members of his coalition are likely to become a problem at some point. There’s no trainwreck in store for Biden with Israel’s new government — but he shouldn’t expect a honeymoon, either.