Netanyahu close to announcing Israel emergency government

Israeli Prime Minister is facing one of the biggest crises in the country's history after Hamas launched surprise attack on Saturday morning

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. AP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Palestine

All partners in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition approved on Tuesday a proposed expansion of the government to include politicians now in the opposition, a statement from his Likud party said.

Mr Netanyahu on Monday called on the opposition to join an emergency government of national unity "without any preconditions" after Israel declared itself in a "state of war" following a surprise attack by Hamas militants from the Gaza Strip on Saturday morning.

The unprecedented weekend attack, which is reported to have killed more than 900 people in Israel, has left the Prime Minister and his hard-right coalition government facing with one of the biggest crises in Israel's history. Hamas said it was holding more than 100 hostages seized during the attack.

Israel immediately launched retaliatory strikes on Gaza that had killed 788 people in the densely populated coastal enclave by Tuesday, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

Drone reveals widespread damage in Gaza

Drone reveals widespread damage in Gaza

In his televised speech on Monday, Mr Netanyahu said his government planned to regain control of the territory and "eliminate terrorists" still present in Israel.

Israel planned to carry out a "massive" assault against Hamas with "unprecedented force" and "strengthen other fronts in the north against Hezbollah" in Lebanon, as well as in the occupied West Bank, he said.

Mr Netanyahu said he would also continue to campaign for international support and work for the "unity of the people" by forming the national unity government.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right member of Mr Netanyahu's coalition, also joined calls for the unity government, while some centre-left parties have offered to join the governments.

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid raised the possibility of a unity government hours after Hamas launched its attack.

"I met with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I told him that in this emergency situation, I’m willing to put aside our differences and form an emergency, narrow, professional government with him to manage the difficult and complex operation ahead of us,” he told reporters.

"The state of Israel is at war. It won’t be easy and it won’t be short. It has strategic consequences which we haven’t seen for many years."

Avi Melamed, a former Israeli intelligence official, told The National that talks to finalise the unity government were continuing.

“It’s a wait and see situation because the most recent update I was told was that there are supposed to be some meetings of the coalition in the opposition, maybe to try to set the terms of what shape of this unity government would compose of,” Mr Melamed said.

'Anger across Israeli society'

Gerald Steinberg, professor of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, said there was across the board agreement that a national unity government was necessary.

"If this unity government doesn’t happen today or tomorrow, there’s going to be huge anger across Israeli society. What’s important for Israelis is seeing experienced and competent hands are together controlling the future. Not simply Mr Netanyahu and the two or three main ministers around him. My prediction is that we are certainly going to see Benny Gantz, who has tremendous military experience," Mr Steinberg told The National.

"The broader the coalition, the greater reassurance the Israeli public will have and the more stability it will ensure," he said.

"My prediction is that the emphasis of the appointments will be on professional security capabilities and not on ideology. The era of Israeli ideological conflict is suspended and probably over for the foreseeable future."

Mr Steinberg predicted that the current crisis would force Mr Netanyahu from office within the next six months.

"How that will happen is unclear. There will certainly be an independent investigation. The report after the 1973 Yom Kippur war led to the resignation of Golda Meir and paved the way for the election of Menachem Begin in 1977, the first time the Israeli left was no longer in control," he said.

"It may be that the Israeli public rejects the Likud party and its dysfunction. That’s a longer-term possibility. In 1982, the Lebanon debacle was clearly a factor in Begin’s resignation in 1983. I think these precedents are important, and I do think they will be followed, probably not immediately."

For the time being, the announcement of an emergency unity government will have to go through the formal procedures in the Knesset, which make take to the beginning of next week, he said.

"The reshuffling of portfolios will also be important. I’m guessing that at least half of the current coalition ministers will no longer be in position, certainly not in the security framework, except for Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

'Fringe right will lose'

"I’m guessing that a number of the fringe ministers such as Itamar Ben-Gvir will not be in the unity government. They may be pushed out or resign because they lose their portfolios. I don’t know about Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich — he’s on the borderline, as he’s considered to be more competent and more politically realistic even though he’s so ideological."

The Hamas attack had also set back prospects of a two-state solution for the foreseeable future, Mr Steinberg said, although the hard right policies pushed by Mr Netanyahu's coalition allies, such as settlement expansion in the West Bank, would also face a setback.

"It’s not on the American table. There will no Palestinian state based on what we saw in the last 72 hours. That means that the whole issue of settlements and the West Bank will have to be rethought completely. But the power of a small group of Israeli fringe ideologues to decide the approach to the West Bank will also be diminished significantly. I believe we’ll see that reflected in the unity government and future elections. I expect to see such elections in around a year. I think the fringe parties will lose very significant support in them.

"Part of the ideology of the right in recent times was 'we don’t care about what the Americans think'. That is not going to continue. The understanding that Israel is a small country in a very dangerous region has already sunk in. The need for an Israeli political leadership that can co-operate with the US has been re-emphasised. That means the fringe right will lose, who have been sticking their fingers in the eyes of the Americans over the settlement issue."

Mr Melamed said the policies of Mr Netanyahu's coalition may not have been the main factor behind Hamas’s attack but were certainly a part of the militant group’s decision to act.

“The Netanyahu coalition is not the reason for the Hamas attack. It basically was some other thing that apparently was further incentivising Hamas to move on with the plan and to conclude it and to maybe to set the time for the attack," he said.

"But it was a part of many parameters that incentivise how much Hamas had planned for the attack.”

Updated: October 11, 2023, 7:41 AM