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New Israeli government should be a teaching moment for global leadership

Israel coronavirus
(Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)
People walk on a street in Jerusalem, on April 18, 2021, after Israeli authorities announced that face masks for COVID-19 prevention were no longer required outdoors.

We are living through one of the most polarizing moments in American and global history. Neighbors cannot agree on basic facts such as the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines, the threats of climate change and the validity of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. In this moment, political leaders have primarily felt the pressure to drum up their base and double-down on their respective pathways forward. Across the political spectrum, purity tests, character assessments to determine whether one is “with us or against us,” increasingly define who can be amongst our ranks.

This reality is reflected in the recent ouster of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.)  from GOP leadership in the wake of her unwillingness to tow the party line in its unwavering support for former President Trump. President Biden campaigned on a promise to unify the country and reach across the aisle but attempts to engage Republicans in meaningful ways have either been critiqued by the left or stymied by the right. 

As governments around the globe battle unprecedented public-health challenges, economic setbacks and social divisions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot afford to have a generation of inward-facing leaders. Facing a rise in strong-man authoritarian leadership, the pursuit of like-minded narrow coalitions is a recipe for disaster. For that reason, governmental leaders around the world should be paying extra close attention to the historic Israeli parliamentary coalition taking form between eight wildly diverse parties across the political spectrum. 

After three years and four election cycles wherein the formation of a stable Israeli government was thwarted by purity tests from both the right and the left, a previously unimaginable alliance of unlikely bedfellows has emerged. Ranging from Islamists, to secularists, settlers, to environmentalists — this motley crew has united around a shared commitment to dethrone long-standing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In doing so, these leaders have decided to enter into the realm of the unknown — pursuing their respective visions beyond the confines of the traditional zero-sum game.   

The partners of this shaky and nascent coalition are gambling their reputations and careers on the belief that the country deserves fresh and honest leadership — that no matter the extent of their divides, breaking Netanyahu’s stronghold will serve to benefit them all. Mansour Abbas and his Ra’am party have stolen the headlines as they break rank from the traditional refusal of Palestinian citizens of Israel to serve in an Israeli parliamentary coalition. In doing so, Abbas has obtained some of the most ambitious policy commitments for the betterment of his constituents — approximately $16 billion worth of funds dedicated to advancing safety, infrastructure and economic well-being for Palestinian citizens of Israel. It is unlikely that Raam’s joining the coalition will solve the more systemic challenges facing the Palestinian citizens, but this new injection of resources and energy is poised to substantially improve the wellbeing of many.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the political spectrum, Yamina the right-wing party which claimed just 6 percent of total votes in the recent election, has managed to dramatically punch above its weight with the crowning of their party leader Naftali Bennet as the next Prime Minister. However, while Bennet has the most to gain, he also has much to lose — between party members defecting, an enraged voter base and threats on his safety — he is paying a steep price for joining forces with the Arab and left-wing parties. 

In the coming days as the world watches to see if the newest Israeli coalition government can get across the finish line, it is worth noting the unique historical development that has transpired. Even if this shaky coalition crumbles from within, we should take this moment to reflect on our assumptions around who can or cannot serve as partners toward a shared future.

Too often partnerships are foiled on the basis of unsavory tweets and personal animus. It is time to lift our heads to the horizons and pursue systemic breakthroughs such as those achieved by Mansour Abbas and the Ra’am party. 

The greatest leadership muscle needed moving forward is the ability to build uncomfortable yet mutually beneficial coalitions. The splintering into sub-interest groups, each in its own bubble, creates a perfect vacuum that populists and authoritarians will be happy to fill. It is time to rewrite the script. Pragmatism does not always equal centrism and is not necessarily a reflection of wishy-washy ideology. Pragmatism, the willingness to make tough compromises, and an erosion of ego are the only way we can successfully navigate the perfect storm of global challenges on our doorstep. Here is to the next generation of global leadership, unbending in their commitment to the needs of their people and willing to take risks by dancing with the supposed devil.

Jonah Fisher is the director of the Millennium Leadership Program at the Atlantic Council and spent his career split between Israel-Palestine and the United States.

Tags Benjamin Netanyahu Donald Trump International Israel Israeli elections Joe Biden Jonah Fisher Leadership Liz Cheney Middle East Politics

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