In his final speech to the Knesset in June, Benjamin Netanyahu, after 12 years as prime minister of Israel, had a pointed message for his successor Naftali Bennett: “I will fight daily against this terrible, dangerous left-wing government in order to topple it.”
A little more than three months later, Bennett’s so-called “change government” hasn’t yet been toppled. In fact, it could be said that the new prime minister’s reign has been notable more for what hasn’t happened than what has.
So far, the government — an unlikely coalition of eight parties across the political spectrum, including Bennett’s own far-right Yamina, Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid, and Ra’am, a Palestinian Muslim party — hasn’t come unglued.
Even with a surge of Covid-19 cases, Bennett hasn’t put the country back into lockdown. He told his coronavirus advisory panel, which had urged more restrictions, that “the commander in this case is the government of Israel”. The government is instead rolling out vaccine boosters. (This isn’t to say that the country isn’t taking Covid-19 seriously. On arrival in Tel Aviv, from where I am writing this newsletter, I had to take a PCR test at the airport. I then had to quarantine for seven days and take a second PCR test in order to leave isolation. When I go back to the US, I will be required to do none of these things. Furthermore, to receive an Israeli Green Pass, which is required to enter venues such as museums, I must also take a serological test. Israelis who refuse booster shots will lose their “Green Pass status” and will, under new rules, reportedly be required to quarantine if they encounter someone who has Covid-19.)
As for the international arena? In August, Bennett met with US president Joe Biden in Washington, DC. After the meeting Biden declared that the two had become a “close friend”. But while the meeting may have warmed relations, it didn’t achieve much else. Biden reportedly told Bennett that he still intends to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem, which handled Palestinian relations for a quarter of a century until it was shut down by Donald Trump. This could cause problems for Bennett’s coalition and for US-Israeli relations in the future — but so far nothing has happened. Biden reportedly agreed to postpone the reopening until after Bennett’s early November deadline to pass a budget.
But mostly, what hasn’t happened is a significant break with the Netanyahu government on policies toward Palestinians. The status quo looks largely as it was. Israel isn’t changing its settlement building policies and reportedly has no plans to limit settlement construction. Dozens of settlers attacked a Palestinian village in the West Bank this week. In September, Bennett reiterated that he did not think there should be a Palestinian state, saying it would be “a terrible mistake”. At his address to the United Nations General Assembly this week, Bennett spoke of Iranian threats and American friendship. He also said that “Israelis don’t wake up in the morning thinking about the conflict. Israelis want to lead a good life, take care of our families, and build a better world for our children”. He did not mention Palestinians or their lives and families. He didn’t even say the word “Palestinian”.