The five-party government formed after an early election held in March 2015, made up of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s center-right Likud, the centrist Kulanu, the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home, and two ultra-orthodox religious parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, has survived internal policy conflicts that threatened its quick demise, and the perceived need for unity in the face of both internal and external security threats is providing enough glue to maintain cohesion for the time being.
Netanyahu has long experience holding fragile coalitions together, a very useful skill in a country where the fragmentation of political support means that achieving a parliamentary majority requires forming partnerships with several parties that frequently adhere to incompatible positions on key policy issues. Nevertheless, Israeli governments rarely serve for a full term, and the risks are heightened in the case of the current administration by its razor-thin majority in the 120-member Knesset.
In terms of domestic security, the West Bank has become the focus of concern, amid mounting fears that the Palestinian Authority (PA) government headed by President Mahmoud Abbas is on the verge of collapse. With the peace process stalled, violence increasing, and the economy in deep trouble, the PA administration is facing a legitimacy crisis. Abbas, who is now 80-years old, is being challenged from within his own camp, creating the risk of a political vacuum that the more radical Hamas faction would undoubtedly attempt to fill.
Even more worrisome are recent moves that carry a high risk of worsening an already tense situation that has triggered repeated small-scale deadly attacks between Israelis and Palestinians over the past several months. On January 21, the government confirmed plans to formally annex a large tract of fertile land in the West Bank near the border with Jordan, an area already controlled by Jewish settlers under the protection of the Israeli military.
The move drew immediate denunciations from PA officials and from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as a breach of international law and a violation of Israel’s stated commitment to a two-state solution. In a separate move that is sure to draw condemnation from the EU, Israeli military forces razed six structures built by the bloc’s humanitarian arm in the E1 area of the West Bank, control of which is crucial to territorial integrity of the West Bank and, by extension, the feasibility of an independent Palestinian state. The Netanyahu government claimed that the structures were erected without authorization, a stance that directly challenges the authority of the PA government.