Israel has seen many firsts in recent years on the domestic political front. However, something overlooked is the fact that for the first time in the country’s history, there is a prime minister and leader of the opposition who are both firmly and ideologically on the right and in the hawkish camp.
Indeed, despite personal and certain policy differences between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and former Prime Minister and current opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, there is little daylight between them on the Palestinian issue. This unique situation, while seen by many Israelis as a challenge, also presents opportunities.
The new coalition took shape shortly after the end of “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” Israel’s recent 11-day conflict with Hamas in Gaza. And though it achieved considerably more than in previous rounds of fighting, it still left Hamas alive and well to continue attacking Israel in the future.
The exact reasons for the operation and its achievements or failures will be left for the military experts and historians to pore over. However, the people of Israel were undoubtedly frustrated by the lack of a decisive victory.
Shortly after the operation ended, a comprehensive survey conducted by the Israel Victory Project demonstrated that 82 percent of Israeli respondents agreed with the statement: “There can be no appeasing Hamas; only by defeating it unequivocally can we bring this conflict to an end.” The same poll revealed that 70 percent agreed that “there can be no deals with terrorist organizations, only defeat. Israel must use all its military, diplomatic and economic means to crush Hamas’s will to continue fighting.”
In addition, 68 percent believed that the operation ended prematurely, and supported the statement: “The operation should have continued until Hamas’s ability and will to attack Israel was destroyed and the hostages and bodies in Gaza were returned.” Only 20 percent supported the ceasefire.
As one would expect, the desire to see a full defeat of Hamas is greatest among those who support Bennett’s Yamina Party, Netanyahu’s Likud Party and others on the right, which constitutes a clear majority in the Knesset. This demonstrates that most Israelis want and expect their leaders to pursue and achieve victory.
Obviously, there is little trust and even less cooperation between the two leaders at this point. In fact, on the first national-security question that has arisen in the new government, the opposition bloc has said that it will vote against the annual reapplication of the so-called “Reunification Law.” Israelis will certainly hope that the warring blocs will find a way to pass this law as every government has done since 2003.
Most importantly, it is hoped that these are teething issues of a new constellation in Israeli politics rife with bad blood. In time, some of this anger will subside and Israel’s elected representatives will need to start acting once again in the interests of the people who elected them.
This can start with victory. Both Bennett and Netanyahu have said that they in favor of victory over Hamas.
During the fighting, then-opposition Knesset member Naftali Bennett called on the government “not to end the current round in Gaza before Hamas pays a heavy price. This is the time to unite and win.”
Netanyahu has also pushed for the full defeat of Hamas, declaring on at least one occasion, “There probably won’t be a choice but to topple the Hamas regime.”
There are many more comments and policies that could be added, laid out by the likes of Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Religious Zionist Party Leader Bezalel Smotrich. Thus, the potential for a wide consensus across the aisles for victory is clearly seen. The people demand such cross-party cooperation in defeating Hamas and Israel’s other enemies.
While the dust is still settling on both the recent conflict and the new government, it will surely not be long before Hamas rears its head again, threatening Israeli civilians. When that happens, the country needs a coalition for victory, which includes almost all of the parties in the Knesset and their leaders.
Some 100 MKs represent parties whose leaders have spoken in favor of defeating Hamas. This is unprecedented in modern Israeli history, and is a moment that cannot be allowed to pass. The Israeli public calls for victory and the politicians have said that they will deliver.
They just need to put aside all other differences, rally around this consensus and act on it. A coalition for victory is vital.
Gregg Roman is the director of the Middle East Forum.