For the first time since 2006, a candidate not named Netanyahu has succeeded in cobbling together a governing coalition. This new coalition will be led by Naftali Bennett, a hard-right Israeli annexationist who rose in the political ranks through the support of the Israeli settler movement and religious nationalists.
While the March parliamentary election in Israel has excluded Netanyahu from the new coalition, it has also produced the most right-wing Israeli parliament ever. As the Israeli journalist Haggai Matar wrote, “around 101 of 120 Knesset seats are held by a political camp explicitly dedicated to Jewish supremacy.” Netanyahu’s Likud party, the largest by far, sits in opposition now, even as the far-right Bennett prepares to lead the government. In fact, this was the last of several elections aimed at replacing Netanyahu.
Previous efforts at besting Netanyahu at the ballot box came from parties Israelis consider “center-left,” and they all failed. Only when challengers came from the right were they able to take enough votes from him to create a coalition without him. In other words, enough voters were willing to defect from Netanyahu but only if they could stay under the right-wing umbrella.
So even if Netanyahu exits the political stage, Netanyahuism continues to dominate Israeli politics. Most of the factional leaders serving in the new government are Netanyahu proteges. Bennett himself used to work for Netanyahu. Because he has dominated the scene for so long, there are very few political figures in Israel who have not worked for or alongside Netanyahu, and his impact on Israeli institutions will be long felt.
Bennett does differ from Netanyahu in some ways. While both are right-wing ideologues committed to perpetual domination of Palestinians, Bennett unabashedly embraces apartheid, while Netanyahu at least understood the value of pretending otherwise before the international community. In practice, Netanyahu did everything possible to make sure there will never be a Palestinian state, while occasionally telling the world he believed in “two states for two peoples.” Bennett will not only continue to act as Netanyahu did, he is unafraid to tell the world about it too.
Bennett might lead this government, but it is unclear exactly how much control he will have over it. The coalition came together based on one goal: unseating Netanyahu and ending the seemingly inescapable cycle of inconclusive Israeli elections. But there is little cohesion beyond that. For this reason, the coalition will be weak and capable of collapsing at any moment while simultaneously seeking to stick together for as long as possible to avoid another trip to the polls. This will mean it will seek to change nothing of substance for as long as possible. In other words, this is a government that will maintain Netanyahu’s policies without Netanyahu’s face on it.
Thus, for Palestinians, this government, which they cannot vote for but that rules them nonetheless, will bring no meaningful change.
Some Israelis will welcome this Bennett-led government. Netanyahu, they argue, has done major damage to Israeli governing institutions and turned a system of checks and balances into an assortment of rubber stamps. But it’s hard to think of this as a victory for democracy in a state that practices apartheid against millions who are denied a right to vote and face widespread discrimination.
However, there is a silver lining. For years, people around the world have grown increasingly concerned with the direction of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, and its apartheid vision for the present and future. These policies have often and mistakenly been associated with Netanyahu himself. But Palestinians know well that the policies of ethnic cleansing, discrimination and oppression long predate Netanyahu and span the Israeli political spectrum. This changing of the apartheid guard offers the world an opportunity to see that this isn’t about one man, no matter how large he loomed, but about a system of injustice perpetuated by a government.
The world, as the song goes, will meet the new boss and see he’s the same as the old boss, but they should not be fooled again.