Pressure on Netanyahu to control Israeli government as cracks appear

Security and society are just two of the issues driving wedges between Prime Minister and his vital coalition partners

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir in the Knesset. EPA
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Senior figures at home and abroad are piling pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over what they believe is his diminishing ability to control an unruly coalition.

In recent days, the Prime Minister has faced high-profile resignations and protests within his own government as concerns mount, particularly among colleagues furthest on the right, over broken promises and a sluggish pace implementing manifesto promises.

On Monday, opposition leader Yair Lapid said the government had “lost control”, of a deteriorating security situation.

On Tuesday, EU diplomats told Israeli media that “we don’t see the control behind the scenes that [Mr Netanyahu] led us to believe he has”.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't like changing the status quo, but we can't continue in a situation where the most basic task that a government must fulfil, ensuring security, is not provided,” Benjamin Sipzner, an activist for the Religious Zionism party whose politicians have voiced frustration on a number of occasions this month, told The National.

“At some point there really is a line for us and the patience of the population and certain Knesset members will disappear. We're heading there right now. The current situation cannot continue.”

While many Israelis decry the new government — the most conservative in the country's history — Mr Netanyahu's solid mandate and an ascendant far right during the most recent elections brought about the strongest coalition seen for some time, ending a tumultuous period that saw five elections in three years.

But the difficult task of implementing the many promises that coalition parties made to their voters is proving divisive.

On Monday, far-right politician Avi Maoz, the Noam party's sole representative in the Knesset, resigned. His letter of resignation to the Prime Minister said he was “shocked to find there was no serious intention of honouring the coalition deal”.

As part of negotiations to form a government, Mr Netanyahu agreed to Mr Maoz's petition to head an authority on Jewish national identity, something that Mr Maoz says never materialised.

The Noam politician is famous for his hardline stance on promoting conservative religious values, including revising the school curriculum and changing policy on an egalitarian prayer zone at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

His departure comes as other key members of the coalition express mounting disquiet across a range of policy areas.

Security, a priority for so many in Israel, is proving particularly contentious. As violence in the West Bank escalates, ministers that ran on hawkish campaigns are under particular strain.

Knesset boycott

On Monday, lawmakers from the far-right Otzma Yehudit party boycotted a Knesset session over what it described as a lenient “policy of containment” after deadly violence in the West Bank.

Earlier in the month, their leader, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, warned he would resign in three months if the government does not implement some of his policies, even if it means bringing down the coalition.

Religious issues are also proving problematic.

On Tuesday, a lawmaker from the ultraorthodox United Torah Judaism party resigned from a government role heading the annual Jewish pilgrimage to Mount Meron, as other parties representing the community complain that the government is not allocating enough funds for their institutions.

It is not known whether such resignations are permanent or temporary in Israel's fast-moving, complex political system.

Mr Sipzner told The National it is “unrealistic” for his party to get “all that it wants”.

“We are only two months in and hopefully things will settle,” he said.

“I don't think we're going to walk away. As things are currently going, I anticipate a lot of pushing and threats to leave Knesset sessions and maybe even ministerial positions temporarily. But overall there's way too much to lose. This is the most right-wing coalition Israel has ever had, and we can't afford for it to fail.”

But there is a growing chance that recent trouble for Mr Netanyahu is more than internal political manoeuvring, and disquiet will likely only rise as the government is forced to confront mounting challenges.

Updated: March 24, 2023, 5:38 AM