When Benjamin Netanyahu returned to office as prime minister at the end of 2022, his coalition government, the most right-wing in Israel’s history, ushered in a divisive new era of political polarization, pushing ahead with reforms to overhaul the judiciary in an effort to consolidate power. But the brutal terrorist attack by Hamas on Oct. 7 and Israel’s subsequent declaration of war have brought the country to a critical inflection point, undermining Netanyahu’s carefully crafted image as “Mr. Security” and raising questions about his political future. Many now hold him directly responsible for the national security failure, including retired Gen. Benny Gantz, who is a member of the emergency war cabinet. A number of recent public opinion polls indicate that Israelis are seeking new leadership. At the same time, Israel's left already begins its political renewal, as Labor party chief Merav Michaeli recently announced her upcoming resignation and called for new elections for the party’s leadership. Will Netanyahu be able to maintain his hold on power and keep his coalition government together? What are the prospects for political change in Israel? And could this bring about progress towards Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking?
The Middle East Institute (MEI) is pleased to host an expert panel to discuss the current state of Israeli domestic politics and its implications for a potential resolution to the Israel-Hamas war and the future of the Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Executive Director, the Berl Katznelson Center
Public Strategy & Branding Consultant
Political correspondent, Walla News
Nimrod Goren, moderator
Senior Fellow for Israeli Affairs, Middle East Institute
- Israeli Political Landscape Amid Crisis: Amidst the war in Gaza, Israel witnessed the formation of an emergency cabinet, in a seemingly-temporary response to the heightened security situation. This suggests a recognition of the need for unified leadership during times of conflict, but also indicates that once the high-intensity fighting phase ends, political transformation may take place. Simultaneously, there are indications of shifting sentiments within the Israeli public, potentially paving the way for changes in leadership dynamics, also leading to renewal efforts among the Israeli left.
- Popularity Dynamics and Political Figures: The political landscape reflects a significant decline in the popularity of Prime Minister Netanyahu, reaching an unprecedented low of only 19% (in a recent poll) saying he should stay in power. In contrast, centrist Benny Gantz experiences a surge in popularity, amid rising speculation about the emergence of a new right-wing party led by influential figures such as Naftali Bennett or Yossi Cohen. These shifts underscore a changing political tide that may reshape the composition of Israeli leadership.
- Scenarios for Political Future: The future of Israeli politics is intricately tied to the outcome of the ongoing war, with potential scenarios ranging from a constructive vote of no confidence (with a new prime minister appointed without dissolution of the Knesset), through Prime Minister Netanyahu's staying in power within his existing coalition, to early elections. The moment in which Benny Gantz will decide to exit the emergency government is identified as a critical juncture, with the potential to catalyze significant political changes.
- Netanyahu's Political Strategies: Netanyahu is strategically considering a quick Likud primary election to consolidate power and potentially lead to early general elections. Simultaneously, he navigates the delicate task of maintaining stability within his coalition amidst disruptions. The intricate dance of political maneuvering reveals Netanyahu's attempts to secure his political standing amid a dynamic and challenging landscape. Many Israelis lose trust in Netanyahu's leadership, as they accuse him of focusing too much on his political survival rather than on winning the war.
- Hamas, Protests, and U.S. Relations: The discussion extended to the multifaceted challenge posed by Hamas, requiring clearly-defined and feasible war objectives regarding Hamas' future. A new wave of protests in Israel, particularly from reservists, can become a potent threat to Netanyahu's political standing. Speculation surrounds potential disputes between Netanyahu and the Biden administration, shaping the delicate U.S.-Israel relationship. Netanyahu's campaign strategy, potentially centered around a crisis with the Biden administration, underscores the complex interplay between political needs and international alliances, with considerations of potential confrontations and the timing of U.S. elections.
Detailed Speaker Biographies
Nimrod Goren is the Senior Fellow for Israeli Affairs at the Middle East Institute. Goren is the President and Founder of Mitvim - The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, Co-Founder of Diplomeds - The Council for Mediterranean Diplomacy, and Co-Chair of a regional initiative at President Isaac Herzog's Israeli Climate Forum. Previously, He was a Teaching Fellow on Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University, and has also worked at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies and the Nehemia Levtzion Center for Islamic Studies. Nimrod is a past recipient of the Victor J. Goldberg Prize for Peace in the Middle East and the Centennial Medal of the Institute of International Education, and was selected as a Vamik Volkan Scholar by the International Dialogue Initiative. He serves on the steering committees of the Geneva Initiative and the Turkish-Israeli Civil Society Forum, and is a member of the Global Diplomacy Lab. Nimrod's fields of expertise include Israel’s foreign policy and regional relations, as well as the Middle East peace process.
Rami Hod serves as the executive director of the Berl Katznelson Center (BKC), a progressive Zionist ideas center that promotes policy solutions to Israel’s core challenges, and educates and trains the next generation of progressive Zionist leaders, thinkers and civil servants. Prior to joining BKC, he served as the director of the Social Economic Academy (SEA), a social justice leadership institute, and was the first employee of ˜Koach LaOvdim,” a new labor union that sparked a revival of labor organizing in Israel. Since August 2020 he serves on the public directorate of Israel’s National insurance Institute (Bituach Leumi), overseeing the major governmental agency and consulting the Social Services Minister on key social policy issues. Over the years, he has provided strategic and policy-related consulting to senior public figures, leading strategic thinking processes and formation of political agendas and party platforms. He also serves as a lecturer and a regular commentator and publicist on issues of social justice and politics in Israel’s mainstream media and major publications.
Nilly Richman is the CEO and founder of Humanizing Public Identity Branding, a boutique agency for public strategic consulting, crisis management, public branding and identity architecture design. She has consulted a wide range of various organizations, high-profile individuals and leaders from the business, public and political arenas. She is also a commentator on news platforms & shadow speech and life stories writer. Richman led the winning campaign for the presidency of the State of Israel, of the 11th president Yitzhak Herzog. Her reputation in the Israeli public & political arenas has been built on unprecedented outcomes in national elections campaigns, worldwide covering: 'Yesh Atid' party, led by later Prime Minister Yair Lapid, which won 19 seats in the Knesset, an astonishing outcome for a new party; Benjamin Netanyahu's first comeback; and 'The Pensioners' Party.
Tal Shalev is the chief political correspondent for Walla! News – the largest Israeli website providing independent breaking news and analysis 24 hours a day. She covers Israel’s prime minister, government, and parliament as well as the country’s foreign and diplomatic affairs. Shalev will be providing exclusive written analysis and briefings for Israel’s Policy Forum’s 120 project.
Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images