Bernie Sanders: Won't be mourning the departure of Netanyahu

US lobby groups welcome broad coalition, fret over efficacy of ‘ragtag’ members

AIPAC says Lapid’s potential government shows ‘resilience’ of Israeli democracy; Democratic group expresses ‘pride’ at inclusivity; J Street predicts struggle over policy

Head of the Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid, center, seen in the plenum hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Head of the Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid, center, seen in the plenum hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Leading US lobby groups welcomed Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid’s announcement late Wednesday that he had succeeded in forming a coalition government to potentially replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In particular, the US groups praised the fact that the coalition would include the Islamist Ra’am party, the first time in decades that an Arab party has joined an Israeli coalition, and the first in which an Arab party is crucial to an incoming government’s majority.

But while the US groups applauded the breadth of parties the potential government includes, they also raised concerns as to how that could affect the actual operation of a future government.

Though Lapid told President Reuven Rivlin that he had succeeded in getting a bloc of left, right, and center parties, along with Ra’am, to agree on forming a government, there are numerous remaining issues that need to be resolved before it can be ratified by the Knesset, as well as the possibility of defectors depriving it of its 61-59 majority before it is even sworn in.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (L), Yamina leader Naftali Bennett (C) and Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas sign a coalition agreement on June 2, 2021 (Courtesy of Ra’am)

The powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee congratulated Lapid and Yamina head Naftali Bennett “for assembling a broad and diverse coalition — spanning the political spectrum of Zionist and Arab parties — to form an Israeli government pending Knesset approval.”

Establishing such a government after the recent conflict with Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip who fired thousands of rockets at Israeli cities “further demonstrates the resilience of Israel’s democracy and its commitment to democratic values,” AIPAC said in a statement, apparently referring to the stalling of negotiations during the fighting last month.

In this May 10, 2021 photo, rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

“We look forward to further bolstering the bond between the US and Israel as the two democracies work in close partnership to advance our shared interests and values,” the statement said.

The Democratic Majority for Israel called the announcement a “historic day.”

“We note with pride that this government is not only expansive, including parties representing the right, left, and center of Israeli politics, it is also inclusive, with Arabs, women, and Jews of color holding key positions,” the DMI said in a statement.

“We congratulate Yair Lapid and his colleagues for achieving what many considered impossible: bringing together a broad spectrum of Israel’s political parties to form a new unity government,” the DMI said, noting that “when this government is sworn in, Israel will be the only country in the Middle East where Jews and Arabs govern together.”

The DMI added that with the inclusion of the Ra’am party, “we are witnessing the beginning of a new chapter in Israel.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen in the plenum hall of the Israeli parliament during the voting in the presidential elections, in Jerusalem, June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The left-leaning J Street lobby group celebrated the fact that if Lapid succeeds in installing a new government, it will mean “Netanyahu is finally booted from the prime minister’s residence” after 12 years in power.

“Netanyahu’s fall from power is a cause for great relief,” the lobby group wrote.

But it predicted that “this ragtag coalition of left, center and right-wing parties united primarily by their opposition to Netanyahu will likely struggle to agree on a policy agenda.”

The group warned that the emerging government would at first be led by Bennett, who, it said, has “consistently presented himself as an even more hardline, pro-settlement, anti-Palestinian, right-wing alternative” to Netanyahu.

On the other hand, the inclusion of Ra’am is “a notable and welcome milestone that could help further normalize Palestinian citizens of Israel playing a major role in political life,” the group said.

J Street called on US leaders to use the opportunity presented by the Lapid coalition to “reset” relations with Israel and “urge the new government to pursue a very different new path.”

Meanwhile, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, speaking to CNN, called Lapid’s bloc “a very strange coalition, people on the left, people on the right, people in the middle.”

Screen capture from video of Senator (Independent-Vermont) Bernie Sanders during an interview with CNN. (YouTube)

Admitting that “I am no great fan of Benjamin Netanyahu,” Sanders said he would “not be mourning the departure of the prime minister.”

“I hope that Israel will have a government that we are better able to work with,” Sanders said.

Under the terms of the new coalition, Bennett is to serve as prime minister until September 2023, when Lapid will take over from him until the end of the Knesset term in November 2025.

Despite Lapid’s declaration, it remained unclear that the prospective “change government” will make it past the finish line. It is set to include 61 of the 120 MKs — the narrowest possible majority. And an MK from Bennett’s Yamina, Nir Orbach, earlier on Wednesday night announced he could vote against the new coalition, a move that could potentially doom the prospective razor-thin government.

The final coalition agreements have yet to be formally released and negotiations are expected to continue until the swearing-in vote.

Lapid was tasked last month by Rivlin with forming a government, after Netanyahu was given first crack but failed to cobble together a ruling majority. The March 23 elections, the fourth since April 2019, again saw Netanyahu and his right-wing religious bloc fall short of a majority.

If the emerging government is sworn in, Israel will have a new prime minister for the first time since 2009. Along with the over 12 consecutive years he has served as premier since then, Netanyahu was also prime minister for three years in the late 1990s.

Israel has been mired in political deadlock since the Knesset dissolved in December 2018, with the four rounds of elections held since then failing to result in a decisive majority for either Netanyahu or his rivals. Besides fighting for his political survival, Netanyahu is currently on trial in three corruption cases.

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