Showing posts with label Israeli government. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Israeli government. Show all posts

Monday, October 5, 2020

October 2020 Update

We are now in the midst of the holiday of Sukkot - also known as "the time of our  happiness," the "holiday of  booths," and the time for travelling and trips abroad for many Israelis.  Not this year, generally.  At least not the travelling part.  Israel is in the midst of a nation-wide shut-down of sorts so travelling is fairly limited.  But Sukkot (booths) are still everywhere - and people are celebrating the holiday.  

It has been a very strange and unusual holiday season though that is certainly  not unique to Israel, unfortunately.   The interesting question is how this will change things in a long term way.  In so many respects.  But that could  really be the subject of a very long blog.  Maybe the next one.  This one will be a bit more anecdotal I think.  I'll cover some personal reflections about the holidays, Israel's current Covid-19 situation, the Israeli government and anything else that springs to mind before the end of these comments.

The Holy Days - Some Personal Reflections

Rosh Hashana came and went.  One initiative in Israel was to have people with Shofars walking  around (on the  second day of Rosh Hashanah, the Sunday) and blowing their shofars so that people could get the chance to hear them.  In Ra'anana, the City set up various points around the city where there would be shofar blowing at different times.  Another  initiative was to tell people to go out onto their front lawns, their balconies or their backyards and blow  their shofars at 11 a.m.  I took part in this one - and noticed at least one neighbour enjoying my attempts to sound like a real shofar blower.  I guess I have another year to practice.   Makes me wish that I had learned to play the trumpet in school instead of the saxophone.  

In any event, it was just our immediate family and we opted for a service  in the house rather than joining the various zoom options or finding an outdoor service that was following the rules.  But we were lucky to have each other and although we missed the rest of our families, it was still a meaningful New Year commemoration.

For  Yom Kippur, we spent a fair bit of time discussing what to do.  We usually run  a small service in Ra'anana, a satellite service for Kehilla Hod v'Hadar (which is in K'far Saba).   In the past, we have not held Kol Nidrei here but have walked to K'far Saba.  We usually then have Shacharit, Mussaf, Minhah and  Neilah in Ra'anana.  

This year, we decided to hold the tefillot outdoors in one of the member family's backyard.  It was too hot to hold a morning service there but we ran a Kol Nidrei service and Minhah/Neilah outside.  We  were all spaced apart, wearing masks and outside.  Just between 11-13 of us.  I think it was my first time leading Kol Nidrei in about 35 years.  So there was a fair bit to prepare.  Neilah was a bit easier since I have been leading it for the past 6 or 7 years I think.  But it worked out  nicely and I am glad we were able to hold this service.

Next up came Sukkot.  We put up our Sukkah - and once again - it was just our immediate family  having meals inside.  The Israeli government has imposed a 500 shekel fine for "attending a meal in a non-family member's sukkah" (defined as someone who doesn't live in the same home).  But I think the fine is really viewed as a 500 shekel fine for those who weren't quick enough (or pre-organized enough) to have a reasonable excuse, when asked, to avoid the fine.  In any case, we have waved the lulav (the palm branch) and the Etrog (the Citron), sat in the Sukkah and enjoyed some nice wine.  After all, it is still the time of "our happiness" and the wine helps.  

The Closure, Covid-19 and Israel

Back to the closure.  The Israeli government has instituted a form of closure - but it is certainly not "hermetic."  In fact, it probably has more holes than a  hunk of swiss cheese.  So police have set  up road blocks all over the place.  But they are only stopping random cars - and then there is a very long list of exceptions to the closure.  The exceptions include:

- going out to buy a lulav and etrog

-going out to perform the mitzvah of Kapparot (until the end of Sukkot) (i.e. swinging a chicken over your head to get rid of your sins;

-buying groceries, essential household goods, medicine etc.,

-exercising (on your own or with a family member from the same house);

- demonstrating (against or for) the government (within 1 km of your house) (I haven't seen too many demonstrating in favour of the current government);

- attending a synagogue service (outdoors, with less than 25 people, within 1 km of your home);

The list goes on and on.  This is just to provide a bit of flavour.  

Overall, there is a sense here in Israel that Covid-19 is really out of control.  We reached close to 10,000 new cases a day last week, in the aftermath of Rosh Hashanah.  We have seen an increasingly high number of seriously ill patients and  a growing number  of fatalities.  Although the government has now imposed a closure as a way to try to deal with it - it is not a well- planned or well thought out response to the pandemic.  It is not being accompanied by steps to assist businesses, business owners and workers that will enable them to manage the economic side of the crisis.  It is being applied universally, all over the country, even though there are clearly pockets of high infection rate areas that probably warrant a different approach from those areas in which the infection rate is low.  It is unclear how this will all play out or what steps the  government will take to try and address the situation.  But we know that the virus can spread at exponential rates.  10,000 new infections per day is quite frightening and is  bound to lead to a great deal of stress on the health care system in Israel, the hospitals and support  systems across the country.  

The Current Israeli Government   

As you may know, the current Israeli government is a coalition government made up of opposing parties, generally quite hostile to each other,  who have been unable to follow the coalition agreement that they put  together themselves.  So, for example, the parties signed an agreement that they would pass a two year budget as one of the first items of business.  But Netanyahu reneged and insisted on a one-year budget only (which would be a budget for the period Jan 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020).  Blue and White continued to insist on a two year  budget.  A stalemate resulted and the decision was put off for two or three months.  As a result, there is no budget for the current year in place.  The government is running on "interim budget measures."  

Netanyahu is looking for an opportunity to pull the plug on this current government and  call an election.  He is hoping that he will be able to piece together a 61+ seat right wing government and get retroactive immunity for himself to clear him of the various criminal charges that he is now facing.  But polls have shown that Netanyahu is losing some support - to the "Yamina" (Real Right) party of Naftali Bennett.  Netanyahu is concerned that he will lose negotiating power and that he may not be able to get the immunity bill or the government that he wants.  So he has now become hesitant to call an election. We therefore have somewhat of a stalemated government that cannot agree on steps to take but is also reluctant to call another election.  This cannot continue for too long.  It is likely that the government will soon crumble and a new election will be announced - perhaps in December or January.

Meanwhile, there are protesters across Israel, spread out and following the new rules of protesting within  1 km of  their  homes.  For the most part, these protests have not been violent and have simply been made up of a wide range of citizens protesting against various aspects  of the operation of this current government under Netanyahu's stewardship.  That was  not  entirely the case on Saturday night in Tel-Aviv, where police on horses and in full riot gear used quite a bit of force to disperse a largely non-violent group of protesters.  

A primary concern is that a Prime Minister facing a range of criminal charges, is trying to make various decisions that could directly impact on his own situation.  For example, which judges to appoint in the courts, which civilian appointments (chief of police) and what to  close versus what to leave open across the country.  During the first closure, in March/April, one of Netanyahu's first steps was to close the courts while leaving many other places open - ostensibly so that he would not have to show up for an impending court appearance.

Many  other  people are protesting the lack of an economic plan, the impact of a closure on so many people without proper support and  the general perception that decisions are being made for political reasons  primarily rather than reasons based on epidemiological necessity or medical and scientific evidence and requirements.

At the same time and to be fair, it is unclear that this large number of protesters will be able to change the political results at the ballot box whenever the next election is held.  In other words, it may well be that they are made up of a large and  vocal minority.  That remains to be seen.

Schadenfreude

I must conclude this post with a comment on Schadenfreude.  

In Israel, I would not say that mask wearing and physical distancing has been viewed as a "left-wing plot" or confined to left segments of society.  In fact, Netanyahu himself has been very clear about wearing a mask,   proper steps to distance himself from others and urging Israelis to follow suggested steps to deal with the virus.  Of course some  of his ministers have not always gone along and  have viewed themselves having a special exemption from the rules that everyone else is urged to follow.  But it is not necessarily a "right-left" fault line. 

In fact one of his ministers is  now the subject of a great deal of press coverage.  Minister Gila Gamliel went to a shul  for Yom Kippur with her father in law - who was under a quarantine order due to exposure to the virus.  Some 28 people who attended services at that shul have now been diagnosed as having the virus.  There are many other similar stories.

As the virus spread in Israel, many in the ultra-Orthodox community refused to close synagogues, wear masks, follow physical distancing guidelines or close learning institutions.  One of the leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis of the Lithuanian ultra-orthodox community, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky had insisted back in March that synagogues and yeshivas remain open since "cancelling Torah study is more dangerous than the virus."  He is later reported to have told his followers  not to get tested - since positive results would lead to a shut down of their institutions.  In any event, at age 92, he has now been diagnosed with Covid-19 although his condition is apparently improving.   According  to at least one report last week,  more than 40% of all cases of covid-19 are in the ultra-orthodox community.   Rabbi Kanievsky eventually agreed to issue a press release urging followers to adhere to guidelines.  But the virus is rampant  now in his community.

Likewise, of course, it is perhaps not surprising that President Trump has also contracted the virus.  He has held countless rallies  with unmasked supporters, refused (for the most part) to wear a mask himself and belittled those  who are taking the virus seriously.  When the Israeli  delegation flew to Washington to sign a peace deal with the UAE, Trump insisted that the delegation members not wear masks at the ceremony.  There was a heated negotiation but the Israelis largely gave in with some exceptions.  

Similarly, at Trump's Supreme Court nomination announcement last Saturday, the attendees did not wear masks or follow any physical distancing guidelines.  Is it at all surprising that Trump and  so many of his colleagues have been infected?  While we can all hope for the complete and  full recovery of the  President, I think we can also all hope (and pray) that the President will change his tune and start urging Americans to follow some common sense guidelines to minimize their chances of getting infected.  Maybe instead of attacking Biden for wearing a "huge mask," he'll decide to start wearing one  himself.  Regularly.  Assuming he recovers.

Sports Comment

September began with some  cautious optimism on my part cheering for some Toronto  teams.  The Raptors, Maple Leafs and Blue  Jays all had a shot to the make the playoffs and I was hoping for an interesting playoff season.   The Maple Leafs and Blue Jays exited with barely a whimper.  This was especially disappointing for the hockey team which had so much talent and so much promise.  But another year is in the books, which means that Toronto has  now gone 53  years without winning a hockey championship.  Ouch.

The Raptors were hoping to repeat their feat of  winning the NBA championship but without their superstar from last year Kawhi Leonard.  For the Raptors, it was also a premature and disappointing exit.

So what is a Toronto sports fan to do?  Well, the remaining team of interest - which has never one a championship - is the Buffalo Bills (okay, not Toronto but close  enough).   The  Bills are off to a 4-0 start this year and have an excellent young quarterback.  So that is very exciting.  Worth staying up for here in Israel.

Finally - and I think I got this wrong in an earlier blog - the Israel national soccer (football) team will play Scotland on October 8th for a chance to get to the delayed 2020 Euro championship.  If Israel beats Scotland, it will have to play the winner of a Norway-Serbia match on November 12th.  So that match will be this coming Thursday - and it really will be one of the biggest soccer matches for the Israeli side in many years.  I am not normally a huge soccer fan - but this will be an exciting event to watch.

I wish everyone a Chag Sameach (Happy holiday) and Mo'adim L'Simchah (Enjoy these times joy) and a home that the coming year brings us much better news from all across the world.  Keep in touch!


Monday, March 30, 2020

Israel Update - Government, Covid-19 and General Lockdown

Hi.  I have a bit of time so this blog might be a bit longer than usual.   I have divided this post  into three parts - the government, the virus and some miscellaneous stuff.  Lots going on, I guess....

Israeli Government

As you might  have read, we finally have a government in Israel after three elections.  It is quite similar to the government we have had up until this point, with the addition of about 18 members of the now splintered Blue and White opposition party.  Netanyahu is still the Prime Minister, for at least the next year and a half and the ultra-religious parties are still part of the government.  Yamina, the right wing nationalist party, is also still part of the new coalition.

As you probably know, we went through three elections and we were still mired in a stalemate.  Netanyahu and his right wing bloc had a total of 58 Knesset seats, leaving them 3 short of being able to form a government.  The opposition included 15 members of the Arab Joint List party, some of whom are virulently anti-Zionist.  But with the Joint List members, the Blue and White party, led by Benny Gantz was able to cobble together 62 seats and was attempting to move ahead with a new government.

This plan created quite a bit of uproar in Israel.  Many of Gantz's critics and even some of his supporters noted that he and other Blue and White members had promised that they would not form a government relying on the support of the Joint List.  Of course Blue and White had also promised that it would not join a government that was led by Netanyahu.  The Likud party figured that Gantz was bluffing and there was no way Gantz could go ahead and build a government relying on the Arab parties.  So the Likud party stuck with Netanyahu and the full right wing bloc and insisted that Gantz's only move was to give up and join them.  Netanyahu stated over and over again that if Gantz did not join him, there would be a fourth election.  He also stated that because of the Covid-19 outbreak, the nation was in a crisis and that the only thing Gantz could do to help save the country would be  to join Netanyahu, on Netanyahu's terms.

For Blue and White, many of its members hoped that by proceeding to take certain steps towards forming a government with the Joint List, the  Likud and/or its right wing bloc would start to crack under the pressure. At some point, the Likud bloc members would realize that unless they made significant concessions towards a genuine unity government, they would all be out of power and Israel would be controlled by a left centre government with support from 15 Joint List members.  Gantz moved things along in this direction.  He developed a plan to replace the speaker of the house, Yuri Edelstein, with a new speaker from the Yesh Atid faction of his party and he also planned to introduce some new legislation including a bill that would prevent Netanyahu from being Prime Minister in the next government until his criminal charges were addressed.

But as the new Knesset members were sworn in, Edelstein, acting under Netanyahu's direction, closed the Knesset  and refused to hold the vote that would have led to his replacement.  The Blue and White party sought direction from the Supreme Court of Israel, which ruled that Edelstein had to open the Knesset.  But Edelstein refused.  Instead, he tendered his resignation along with a 48 hour window for it to take effect.  This meant that the Knesset would continue to be closed and he could not be replaced.  It was a calculated move by Bibi to buy more time and continue negotiating with Gantz while he was still in a position of power.  Bibi continued to threaten that if Gantz did not give in to his demands, that would create a fourth election.  He also called on Gantz to "put Israel above all else" and join his government.  Bibi and his bloc members were prepared to openly disregarded the order of the Supreme Court as a delay tactic to put more pressure on the opposition.

At  the same time, Gantz lost considerable bargaining power.  Two Blue and White members, Zvi Hauser and Yoav Hendel, decided that they would not agree to support a government that was relying on the support of the Arab parties.  Another member, Orly Levy, also stated that she would vote against any proposal that would include the Joint List.  So the Blue and White party was now left with the potential support of only 59 with considerable confusion about what Hauser and Hendel might do in the event of any given vote.  One additional member of Blue and White started to indicate that he would defect as well.  Faced with all of this internal pressure along with the pressure from Bibi and political pressure from the right, Gantz conceded defeat and agreed to join Bibi's government, against the wishes of about half of the members of his own coalition group.

To try to paint the rosiest picture possible, Gantz claimed that he had extracted genuine concessions and that this was a necessary move for Israel at this challenging time.  Although the deal includes equality between the number of Blue and White cabinet ministers and the number from the entire right wing bloc - 14 or 15 each initially and now maybe up to 17, it leaves Netanyahu in place as the Prime Minister for at least 18 more months.  It also includes a provision to change the law and allow Netanyahu to serve as a cabinet minister while facing indictment.

A significant number of Blue and White members were outraged.  The Blue and White party itself had been made up of three different factions.  Two  of them rejected this deal and decided to split.  Yair Lapid's party Yesh Atid and the Telem party led by Moshe (Boogie) Ya'alon both left Gantz's party, taking 18 members with them.  That left Gantz with 16 to join Netanyahu's government, of whom 15 will be cabinet ministers.   The government will have a massive cabinet with between 28 and 34 cabinet ministers to try and keep as many Knesset members as possible happy.

Meanwhile, Lieberman, who had held the balance of power with 7 seats, has been left out in the cold.  He is not part of the new government and was unable to force the Likud to agree to a true national coalition government between the two big parties without the ultra-religious parties.  This new government is likely to continue the same direction with respect to state-religion issues, which is a major defeat for the Blue and White party and its supporters and for Lieberman.

Meanwhile, the left wing coalition between the Meretz (secular democratic) and Labour (socialist) party has also fractured.  Before the election, a key Labour Party member, former Labour leader Amir Peretz, said he would shave his trademark moustache so that people could "read his lips"  to prove that he would not join a Bibi-led government.  Today he seems poised to join the Netanyahu government, leading his coalition partners to split off into another faction.  It is unclear why Peretz feels that it is so urgent to abandon his party's principles and join this government but that is what appears to be taking shape.

Yair Lapid and the Yesh Atid party will stay with the Telem party and look like they will be the official opposition.  Yesh Atid and Telem both broke away from the Blue and White party as a result of this deal.  Only Lapid and Ya'alon seem to have been prepared to  weather the pressure from Netanyahu and stay the course towards trying to bring about genuine change in the Israeli government.

In the end, after three elections, Israel has another right wing-ultra-religious government, led by Netanyahu, who continues to await the start of his criminal proceedings.  A major defeat for the centre and the left in Israel and another big win for Netanyahu who is truly a master politician and an unrivaled manipulator.  Like many other politicians, he is ready willing and able to use every trick in the book to retain power.

Covid-19 Update

Like the rest of the world, Israel continues to grapple with the spread of Covid-19.  As of yesterday, there were about 4,300 cases in Israel.  There have been 16 deaths and there are about 80 people in serious or critical condition.  The government, led by direction from the Ministry of Health, has implemented wide-spread restrictions on movement across the country.  Many businesses are closed including most non-essential retail establishments, restaurants (other than for take-out and delivery) and all forms of entertainment.  These restrictions may have helped to limit the spread and allow the hospitals to prepare for the impending onslaught of patients who will require respirators and ventilators in the coming weeks.  It is unclear whether the combination of restrictions and preparations will suffice but Israel is doing everything it can to stay ahead of the curve.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has gone on TV regularly to introduce new, increasingly harsh restrictions.  He has also been warning Israelis that the steps are necessary to ensure that Israel does not turn into Italy, Spain, or the United States.  In one TV appearance last week, he suggested that the U.S. may wind up with close to 500,000 fatalities and that Israel would likely wind up with more than 10,000.  We will continue to hope that these predictions are not accurate and that we will soon find a vaccine or a cure for this disease.

Miscellaneous Other

I saw the meme that is circulating  - "I miss those days when I could voluntarily choose to skip going to synagogue."  Well, our shul, Kehillat Hod VeHadar, has been building up a series of Zoom shul meetings.  Our shul has not implemented Zoom services on Shabbat for halachic reasons but it has been running Kabbalat Shabbat (before Shabbat) and havdalah (after Shabbat) with more than 50 different zoom windows open and somewhere between 50 and 100 people attending.  Not bad for a shul with only a few hundred families.  Like Synagogues around the world, the Kehillah will continue to develop online learning opportunities, classes and other meetings while in-person attendance is not feasible.  I see that Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Toronto is also headed down that path as are many other congregations.  Families are gearing up for Zoom Pesach seders.  I think we are likely to hold an intimate Pesach Seder for just the five of us rather than a Zoom event.  But I guess we have a bit of time to decide.

Israeli TV station, channel 12, has been broadcasting concerts each night at midnight on TV as well as other concerts at different times on its website.  We have seen some terrific concerts  including Idan Raichel, Rami Kleinstein, Amir Dadon and Keren Peles.  Others have been less memorable but it is a great initiative.  All of the concerts are performed live at an empty Zappa Club in Tel-Aviv.

Like many other people, we have been doing lots of cooking.  Trying out some new recipes.  We made some homemade pizza - even the sauce was from scratch.  Tried out a recipe for long ribs, a Spanish Frittata, and a whole roasted chicken (mixed recipes from a friend and a family member).  Lots of other ideas coming up.  I have a humus recipe from one good friend and a channa masala recipe from another.  And it is nice barbecue weather.  Trying to keep the recipes reasonably healthy and limit the amount of wine that is consumed with the meals.  And trying to do some exercise using a phone app - to keep off the weight.  We haven't really made a dent in the whisky collection yet but if this isolation period continues long enough - we might start.

Israel has made great efforts to bring Israelis home from all over the world.  El Al has played a significant role in this - despite the enormous financial and existential difficulties it is now facing.  Some flights were sponsored by donors, businesses and other contributors to ensure that people could come back home for free or at a greatly reduced rate.  Other flights were were arranged by El Al itself or by travel agencies or other airlines.  Everyone arriving home (including our family member...) has had to go into a two week self-isolation.  So we are grateful for all of the efforts of these airlines and travel agencies and happy to be going through that now with our self-isolated family member.  We are looking forward to the end of the two week period - right before Pesach.

Obviously there will be no travelling for  me (or anyone else) for a while - who knows for how long - but hopefully there will be clients  who are happy to meet virtually.   I hope that my friends with big family events including bnei-mitzvoth and weddings will see all of this subside super quickly or will find ways to make alternate arrangements that are equally meaningful.

It is a strange world without any sports events, entertainment outings or other of the usual events that we have been so accustomed to enjoying.  Our beloved Toronto Maple Leafs will once again be denied the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup (they haven't won since 1967 and they probably weren't going to win this year...).

How quickly everything can change.  We take so many things for granted and we realize now how suddenly everything can be so different.  It brings ever increasing meaning to so much of the liturgy that we read on Yom Kippur.

I wish everyone the best of health and hope to try to keep in touch regularly with as many of you as possible.  Let's hope that we got through this much quicker than expected.










Friday, March 15, 2013

Israel's New Coalition Government

The Israeli coalition talks are all but completed and the different parties are expected to sign a coalition deal very shortly.  Assuming that the deal gets signed, Israel will have a new government just in time for the visit of President Obama.

In some ways, this could be one of the most change-oriented governments that Israel will have seen in a long time.  There are some very exciting possibilities. 

The Israeli government, so far, will be made up of Likud-Beitenu (31 seats), Yesh Atid (19 seats), Habayit Hayehudi (12 Seats) and Hatnuah (6) seats for a total of 68 seats in the 120 seat Knesset.  The biggest sea change is that this will be one of the few governments in Israel's history without an ultra-orthodox party in the government.  For many years, the ultra-orthodox parties, representing somewhere in the range of 15% of the population, have held the balance of power.  They have been able to extract huge concessions including financial support of Yeshivot, control over rabbinic affairs in Israel, exemptions from military service, preferential housing arrangements and many other terms.  If this new coalition holds together, many of these deals are about to come unraveled.

Yair Lapid campaigned on a platform of making significant changes to domestic policy.  Many Israelis doubted that he could achieve very many of his goals and were quite pessimistic given the way Israeli governments have been managed historically.  However, if the coalition talks are any indication, Israel will see some very significant changes quite quickly.  Lapid withstood enormous pressure from Prime Minister Netanyahu and from the ultra-orthodox.  He managed to come up with a coalition agreement that included major concessions.  The ultra-orthodox will no longer be exempt from the army and mandatory service for all Israeli men will be reduced from 3 years to 2 years. Lapid's party will control the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance. This means that here will be major educational reform - including mandatory secular subjects for all Israelis.  Budget allocations to ultra-orthodox institutions will undoubtedly be reduced dramatically.  Lapid has also indicated that he will pushing to change, liberalize and modernize the relationship between the state and its religious groups.  In other words, he will aim to reduce the power of Israel's ultra-orthodox rabbis and emphasize pluralism, greater equality and opportunity for liberal streams of Judaism.  There are all kinds of possibilities here, ranging from better treatment of Conservative and Reform Jewish organizations, changes to how the Kotel is run, changes to marriage, divorce and other laws and changes in many other areas.  The religious character of Israel is about to undergo a major transformation.  If Lapid can continue to deliver in many of these areas, his support will grow dramatically and he may even wind up forming the next Israeli government.

Lapid could not have achieved all of this alone.  The other big winner in these coalition talks has been Naftali Bennett.  Although Bennett is painted as a right wing extremist in some areas, he proved to be very pragmatic in working with Lapid in these coalition talks.  He solidly supported the notion of universal mandatory service and many of the other platforms that Lapid has put forward.  Bennett has even called for the institution of Sunday as a second day off for Israel so that Israel can move to a 5 day work week.  Bennett proved that he was a man of his word and he stuck by Lapid even has Prime Minister Netanyahu did everything he could to break the understanding that Lapid and Bennett had.  Bennett was a major victor in these coalition talks.

From a domestic perspective, it seems to me that this could turn into one of the best governments that Israel has ever had.  It looks like it will be a government committed to trade and investment, education, improvements to health and medical care, technology and significant liberalization of Israeli society in many areas.

However, there are also major challenges.  Netanyahu also included HaTenuah, led by Tsipi Livni, in the government.  Livni is committed to beginning new peace negotiations with the Palestinians immediately and she is supported in that area by Lapid.  Netanyahu also agreed to this as a term of Livni joining the government.  However, Bennett, based on what he has said so far, is adamantly opposed to having Israel make any concessions.  So with respect to peace talks with the Palestinians, it is unclear what this government will do.  If Bennett decides to take a pragmatic approach, as he showed that he can do in these coalition talks, there may still be opportunities for this government to take some bold steps and try to reach some kind of deal with the Palestinians.  Lapid and Livni are certainly willing to take these steps, though it is unclear whether Netanyahu (and Bennett) are willing to join them.  In any event, the flip side is that the Palestinians will also have to make significant concessions to get a deal.  It is quite clear that this government is not about to make any concessions on Jerusalem, nor is it about to leave the major Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank.  These areas will almost certainly be annexed by Israel even if that is part of some kind of land/territory swap. 

In some ways, this government is a big defeat for Prime Minister Netanyahu.  He was unable to keep the ultra-orthodox in the government after they have supported his party for so many years.  He lost more ministerial portfolios than he would have liked and he even agreed to reduce the size of the cabinet down to 22 members from a high point of more than 30.  In fact, he was forced to make concessions in almost every area that Bennett and Lapid demanded.  This was a major lesson in humility for a Prime Minister who was in such a stronger position after the previous election.  However, he is still the Prime Minister and he will still have a great deal of power.

The new government must also be seen as a major defeat for Shelly Yacomovitch and the Labour Party.  Rather than join in these talks - and try to work with Lapid and his centrist ideas, Labour opted to take the position that they would refuse to join the government under any conditions.  They missed a tremendous opportunity to be a part of what may shape up to be a very progressive government.  As a result, if Lapid is successful, it seems to me that Labour will face a significant decline in popular support by the next election.  Labour would be better off ousting its current leader and joining this government as part of a national unity coalition, while they can still get some reasonable concessions.

The new government is also a huge defeat for the ultra-orthodox parties who will sit with Labour in the opposition benches.  In a way, there was not much that the ultra-orthodox could do after the election results.  Lapid wound up with more power than the ultra-orthodox and he was prepared to use it - unlike many Israeli politicians in the past.  The Haredi parties have tried to paint this is some type of "anti-Haredi" movement - even hatred of the ultra-orthodox.  I don't think that is really the point.  For years, the ultra-orthodox have played the system, held the balance of power and extracted enormous concessions, all of which have affected Israelis across the spectrum.  This is now an opportunity to try something different - a government without ultra-orthodox - which will have the chance to change things around.

Overall, Israel faces many different challenges - ranging from existential and military challenges posed by Iran, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, the Palestinians, Hezbollah and various other hostile neighbours to the challenges of increasing world isolation and in some cases (like with Turkey), outright anti-Israel hostility, even bald anti-Semitism.  Israel also has a wide range of domestic challenges including its national debt, the growing gap between rich and poor, the very high cost of living and the tensions between the ultra-religious, the religious and the secular. 

With all of these challenges, the new government will have lots of work to do.   But it seems to me that it is much better equipped to tackle some of these challenges than many of the governments Israel has had in the past.