Why Israel may never be the same

An unlikely coalition of disparate parties aims to govern for “the shared good.”

United Arab List Raam/REUTERS
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid (left), Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett (middle), and United Arab List party leader Mansour Abbas sit together in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 2.

Democracies around the world can take a cue from what just happened in Israel. After six weeks of negotiations, eight of the country’s 13 parties, with views as far apart as Venus and Mars, were able to forge a political alliance. If approved by parliament in coming days, this once-unthinkable team will form a new government that, as coalition leader Yair Lapid said, will “respect those who oppose it” while trying to “find the shared good.”

Such words are rare in the knock-’em-sock-’em politics of a country riven by more than its fair share of fractures. Yet they reflect a public sentiment in favor of what Mr. Lapid calls “national healing.” The pandemic, an economic crisis, an 11-day war with Hamas, and four inconclusive elections in two years, as well as fatigue with the 12-year rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have set the conditions for an unusual unity government.

Just as important was Mr. Lapid’s role. When Israel’s president chose him May 5 as the architect in designing a new government, the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party (There Is a Future) had to first reach deep into his past political failures and apply a lesson of modesty. Instead of becoming prime minister, he chose Naftali Bennett, leader of a small right-wing party, to take the job for two years. If the coalition survives that long, Mr. Lapid will then get his turn. Such sacrifice would be a first in Israel.

Another first was bringing in an Israeli Arab party, Ra’am, to help form the coalition. That will help create a spirit of reconciliation after weeks of Arab-Jewish domestic violence during the war with Hamas in Gaza. “The government will do everything it can to unite every part of Israeli society,” Mr. Lapid said. “We will focus on what can be done, instead of arguing over what is impossible.”

He claims only a centrist party can play such a role in convincing the left and right to make difficult compromises for a common goal. Yet he also claims Israelis have had “enough of anger and hate.” The coalition’s main goal, he says, is to take the country out of “the crisis within us” with a period of “quiet” politics that are “cleaner, decent.”

In a region of the world where history more often divides than unites, Mr. Lapid boldly states, “We’re not here to fight about the past but for the future.” His first success has been to see his political opponents differently. “I believe in the good intentions of my future partners,” he said after forming the coalition. No matter what comes next, Israel may never be the same.

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