The new ‘Change government’ of Israel is marked by many unprecedented aspects of historic significance. This ‘Change Government’ is surely a marked shift in contemporary Israeli politics. Its composition defies the pattern of Israeli politics in decades. But a critical appreciation of the last two years of inconclusive elections, change of winds in Arab capitals with ‘Abraham Accord’ and the change of US administration and its policy trends towards West Asia and Israel, in particular, makes it apparent that the ‘Change Government’ is the reflection of these broad changing trajectory of time.
The ‘Abraham Accord’ of 2020 was a historic shift in Arab-Israel relations. Despite numerous scepticism and criticism, the Accord created a window of hope for peace in this strategic region marred by violence, conflicts and crisis. In the face of Israel’s domestic politics, its agenda and ideological determination, the normalisation earned by the ‘Abraham Accord’ seemed fragile based on the security of the ruling elite and regimes of the Arab world in wake of Arab Spring and Iranian challenge. Thus appeared very hard to sustain and last. In this context, the ‘Change Government’ of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett not only marks the end Netanyahu era but more importantly Netanyahu brand of politics which was not able to respond to the spirit of Abraham Accord in domestic policy direction in Israel. The pattern of outcomes of the last four elections is reflective of the change. To me, the ‘Change Government’ is an appropriate response to that change and therefore a clear domestic reflection of the normalisation of ‘Abraham Accord’ process in the region.
The coalition of eight parties ideologically reflects the whole spectrum of Israeli politics from far Right to Centre Left to the Left. This coming together in the face of the formidable leader, Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud party with the largest number of seats is a feat made possible by the overall exigencies of the political course of Israel. The policies and opinions of the coalition partners are obviously not merely different but also conflictual. This change at the moment in the domestic political scene is a necessary condition to take Israel forward with its democratic credential and match the changing geopolitical landscape of the region. An accommodation within is sin qua non to sustain and promote the normalisation around for secure and prosperous future. In recent years Israeli society was in a fast course of sharp division politically which is reflected in the repeated inconclusive election and inter-community violence during the recent Israel-Gaza conflict. In his speech, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett put it reflectively that “The time has come for different leaders, from all parts of the people to stop, to stop this madness. Our principle is, we will sit together, and we will forge forward on that which we agree- and there is much we agree on, transport, education and so on, and what separates us we will leave to the side.” These are surely the profound expression of a change of an incoming government in the history of Israel and its politics.
The inclusion of the Israeli Arab party, Ra’am led by Mansour Abbas at this moment is surely a historic change with numerous consequences and implications for the nature and onward course of Israeli politics. The four members of the party were critically crucial for the formation of any government. The prudence of the Jewish parties and the pragmatic decision of the Arab party is a profound way forward in the direction of much-desired social accommodation and inclusive nature of Israel’s polity and its functioning. The words of Prime Minister Naftali Bennet is the pointer of this fundamental change in the political perception which is bound to answer silently the myriads scepticism and reservations of in the hearts and minds of the Arab world. He said “We will strengthen the building of communities across Israel. We will open a new page in the relations between the State of Israel and the country’s Arab citizens. This is the right thing to do.” Such an expression of acknowledgment within the Israeli parliament by the incoming Prime Minister is evidence of a deeper change with a wider extent of significance in the days to come. He further added that “We understand the plight and needs of the Arab society. The fight against crime and violence, the housing crisis, the gaps in education and infrastructure- will be addressed. We will begin the process of regulating the Bedouin settlements in the Negev so that Israel’s Bedouin citizens can live in dignity.” The content and spirit of the words manifest the empathic sentiments of fellow feeling towards the Israeli Arab population. This is bound to produce a sense of belongingness among Israeli Arabs with this new course of political partnership. The reference of dignity for the Arabs by the Israeli Prime Minister on the floor of the Parliament has broken the wall of hesitancy and the change will find an echo in every onward political discourse with positive outcomes.
The gradual accommodation and integration of Arab-Israeli citizens with the rehabilitation of their citizenship with dignity has a greater possibility of bringing moderating change in the approach of Palestinians in the West Bank as well. It may not heal their century-old grievances but can surely mitigate the pangs by instilling hope of possible future settlement with dignity. This change has produced a strong hope that if Arabs can decide to live with dignity and rights with Jews in Israel, Israel and Palestine can also have a peaceful existence in the years ahead. At this stage, in light of its historical trend, focused pursuit of this change is an utmost imperative to national cohesion, security and stability of Israel.
This small beginning will transcend the boundaries of Israel into the larger Arab societies and is bound to have moderating consequences and mitigate the feeling of otherness towards Israel. There were spiralling doubts in the region and around the world that the ‘Abraham Accord’ will not be able to sustain the consequences of the latest Israel-Hamas conflict. But politics of the conflict has itself created the new context of this change government. But it is to be noted that the exigencies of the change have been sowed before which may be traced back decades ago in the Egypt-Israel Peace Accord, 1978 and the Oslo Accord and the process.
This spirit of acceptance and accommodation has passed through its different stages to ‘Abraham Accord’. The ‘Change Government’ and its composition and policy changes are the manifestations of domestic responses to this larger change syndrome in Arab-Israel relations. This is the necessary change to sustain and expand the ‘Abraham Accord’ which is the focussed priority of Israel for its sustainable security and durable peace with Arab neighbours. This evolving change and trend is in consonance with India’s pursuit in the region under its ‘Extended Neighbourhood’ policy and strategic balance between Israel and Palestine in particular. Hope this change sustains and the peace prevails in the region.