The Domestic Political Scene
As in other Western democracies, a basic feature of Israeli political life is ongoing social and political polarization, reflected in part by conflicting interpretations of the situation among different groups. On the one hand, there is a sense of a “new normalcy” among many Israelis, mainly due to the following developments: a) a functioning new government, particularly in contrast with the recurrent political crises of the prior two years. The new government’s effective performance was reflected, above all, in the passing of a state budget after a lapse of more than three years; b) relatively successful handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite its ubiquity and the persistent new challenges and uncertainties it poses; c) relative security stability, despite the short fourth round of warfare with Hamas in May and the renewal of “lone wolf” terrorism; d) impressive economic recovery following waves of COVID-19; and e) return to normalcy in Jewish-Arab relations following the May riots. This sense of normalcy serves as a stabilizing factor.At the same time, many have an entirely different perception of the political situation. To them, it is fragile, unstable, and liable to fall apart at any moment. Although following the passage of the budget there seems to be a chance of governmental stability, at least until 2023, they believe there are a number of reasons to doubt this prospect: a) Israel’s delicate coalition framework and practices remain; b) the current government is precarious, primarily due to the wide disparity among its constituent factions; c) the opposition is very active in seeking to delegitimize the government and disrupt the Knesset’s legislative work; d) fundamental domestic challenges highlighted during the pandemic – lack of solidarity; low level of trust in governmental systems, including the legal system; and grave failures in governance – are still present, and some have even worsened; e) the government has agreed to avoid dealing with critical controversial domestic issues, as well as with the Palestinian issue; and f) Israeli society is more politically, socially, and economically polarized than ever.
The Socioeconomic Challenge
The lack of significant restrictions on the Israeli economy during most of 2021 provided strong starting conditions for a quick economic recovery. This recovery, which is based to a large extent on the average macroeconomic data, clearly represents economic resilience. The significant increase in state tax revenues, the flow of foreign investments into Israel, and the increase in Israeli exports are based definitively on the growth in the hi-tech sector, which represents roughly one tenth of Israel’s labor force. The necessary expansion of this sector is not guaranteed, whether in the short or long terms or in the long run. In addition, the gaps between the relatively few who are well-off and other groups in the population are widening, creating a potentially dangerous and volatile situation in the long term. Indeed, the economic crisis stemming from COVID-19 still prevails in many sectors that 0do not share the impressive 7 percent growth in 2021 and the forecasted 5.5 percent growth in 2022. According to a December 2021 report by the Latet non-profit organization, 2,540,000 people (27.6 percent), among them 1,118,000 children (36.9 percent), live below the poverty line. This formidable social challenge requires a systemic governmental response and a fundamental paradigm shift in a series of critical areas, including infrastructure, education, employment, and housing. This has not happened, and the reforms approved in the 2022 state budget do not change the picture.
A significant positive change during the past year was the political legitimacy gained by the Arab party Ra’am – a first achievement of this sort for Arab parties in Israeli politics. This development is likely to generate an important stabilizing trend, though its viability over time is in question due to the hostility, fear, and marginalization of Arabs by many Israeli Jews. An August 2021 survey by the Hebrew University’s aChord Center found that 21 percent of the Jews questioned expressed a high level of hatred toward Arabs, compared with 10 percent of the Arabs who expressed a high level of hatred toward Jews. According to findings from the November 2021 INSS National Security Index, 52 percent of Jewish respondents oppose the inclusion of an Arab party in the governing coalition, compared with 45 percent who regard it as legitimate.
- Finally, there is the matter of the IDF’s attitude toward socially significant issues within the army that are of interest to civil society as well. The IDF’s supreme command could be more receptive and sensitive to criticism of its actions, budgetary demands, and statements by its commanders that quite often resonate negatively among parts of the Israeli population. The issues exposed by the public criticism, as well as the way the IDF handles them, are likely to reduce public trust in the army, and in the longer term, further diminish public support for the traditional and worthy model of the “people’s army,” which is at the base of the IDF’s legitimacy and realization of its force buildup needs.
Progress in good governance and domestic normalization in order to strengthen national resilience requires the planning and implementation of structural changes in government and society. For this purpose, the government’s self-imposed restrictions on addressing the fundamental issues of society and the economy should be removed. In this context, the following is recommended:
- Advance government actions that focus on narrowing socioeconomic gaps in order to promote broad economic growth, thereby enhancing social solidarity. The government should concentrate on measures for strengthening social equality and furthering employment opportunities.
- Reinforce the need for government accountability and promotion of democratic governance; reconstruct effective mechanisms for strategic planning and implementation on key issues such as empowering local government and strengthening enforcement agencies, including police empowerment, in order to curb the ability of extremist groups (both Arab and Jewish) to maintain “social enclaves” that lack adequate governance.
- Assign high priority to improved relations between the Arab minority and the Jewish majority, using the resources that have been allocated to suppress crime and violence in Arab society in the short and medium term, while narrowing deeply rooted gaps that generate crime, especially in cities with mixed Jewish and Arab populations.
- Advance and systematically reorganize the state’s capacity to prepare for and manage mass disasters, ranging from security-related calamities to natural disasters such as catastrophic climate change, earthquakes, and pandemics.
- Formulate an expanded national security concept leading to a revised strategic doctrine for the IDF, with emphasis on improving home front preparedness for a future large-scale conflict.