JERUSALEM, Israel – Two days ago, a political earthquake shook Israel. Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid formed the first coalition government in 12 years without Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The coalition agreement awaits a Knesset vote that would install Bennett as prime minister for the first two years followed by Lapid for the next two years. Many are wondering what this new coalition would mean for US-Israel relations.
Bennett – a religious conservative – holds strong views that differ from President Joe Biden, particularly on the Iranian nuclear deal. Biden helped draft the original 2015 Iran deal and his administration is currently negotiating another agreement. Bennett explained to CBN News earlier this year why he believes the original was a bad deal.
“It gives a false sense of confidence that you know, we’ve got Iran covered,” said Bennett. “But it doesn’t. In fact, the deal allows Iran to proceed to the very verge of acquiring not one nuclear weapon, but dozens and all they need to do is press a button and they’ll have within days dozens of nuclear bombs.”
Yet in Washington, Defense Minister Benny Gantz who would remain Defense Minister in a Bennett government said any disagreements would be expressed in private.
“We will continue this important strategic dialogue in private discussions,” Gantz said.
Netanyahu on the other hand challenged the Biden administration this week.
“If we have to choose, I hope it does not happen, between friction with our great friend the United States and the elimination of the existential threat – the elimination of the existential threat is increasing,” he said.
Netanyahu claims his possible successor – Naftali Bennett – won’t be able to stand up to pressure from the Biden administration the way he would on a number of issues like Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the re-funding of UNRWA and the contentious issue of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
The head of UNRWA came to that neighborhood to condemn what he says is a violation of international law. The US State Department has also warned Israel about the situation.
To confront the US on this issue and others, Bennett would head a divided coalition with many internal ideological differences, including an Arab party that holds anti-Zionist views. The one main glue holding the coalition together is their desire to oust Netanyahu.
The fragile coalition still needs to be ratified by the full Knesset sometime next week. Until then, Netanyahu is doing what he can to convince one or two defectors not to support the new coalition. It’s perhaps his last opportunity to avoid being out of the office of prime minister for the first time in twelve years.