In late June, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that he would not seek reelection after his ideologically-mixed coalition collapsed. Now, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi wants to do the same after his coalition lost the support of the populist Five Star Movement, led by his predecessor, Giuseppe Conte.
Upon first glance, these two collapses seem relatively detached. For one, Mr. Bennett is a member of the Yamina, a right wing Israeli nationalist party, while Mr. Draghi aligns himself with the “ideas of liberal socialism.” Mr. Bennett became prime minister to replace a man who had served since 2009; Mr. Draghi replaced his predecessor who had served for three years until his coalition splintered. Mr. Bennett and his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, share much of the same political thinking, while Mr. Draghi and his predecessor, Giuseppe Conte, occupy opposite ends of the political spectrum.
While the direct reasons behind these two parliaments’ dissolutions are different, the general national sentiment and political motives are largely the same. Both coalitions were incredibly ideologically diverse: Israel’s coalition ranged from the religious Arab Muslim Ra’am party to the conservative Israeli Yamina party, while the Italian government hosted a spectrum from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) to the leftist Article One party.
Both Mr. Bennett and Mr. Draghi became prime ministers in efforts to pull their respective countries from turmoil and uncertainty. The former defeated former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the 2021 legislative election, creating a government with Yair Lapid, now the prime minister of Israel. The latter was invited by Italian President Sergio Mattarella to form a cabinet to quell the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy while it was struggling with continuing outbreaks of the disease in Europe.
To a large extent, both of these prime ministers accomplished their major objectives, partly because of the diverse coalition with which they governed. This diversity, however, was also these coalitions’ undoing.
Prime Minister Bennett lost his parliamentary majority after he could not secure the votes needed to extend the rights of Jewish settlers in the West Bank to receive national Israeli health insurance, to practice law, and to be tried in Israeli civil courts; Palestinians are not afforded these rights. The measure must be extended on a five-year basis, but after the the secular Jewish and pro-Palestinian members of his coalition refused to back this measure, right-wing Jewish nationalists withdrew their support for the Bennett government.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has existed since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, with right-wing Jewish nationalists supporting Israeli control of Israel’s current borders, including the West Bank and Gaza, limiting the rights of Palestinians in these regions, and secular Jewish leaders and Palestinians supporting varying degrees of Palestinian autonomy.
This conflict is a constant issue with which every Israeli prime minister must contend, and Mr. Bennett had to get politicians on every end of the spectrum to agree on a temporary solution, a gargantuan task.
Mr. Bennett’s parliamentary majority was destined to collapse from the beginning; the incredible ideological diversity of the coalition was almost guaranteed to splinter when tasked with confronting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that is exactly what occurred.
Despite the eventual collapse of the Bennett government, he was able to oust his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mr. Netanyahu is on trial for various corruption charges; he has denied these allegations. Despite some politicians refusing to support a prime minister of trial, he managed to win his election. However, he was unable to form a government, leaving Yair Lapid to attempt to do so. This ushered in Naftali Bennett as the 13th prime minister of Israel, ending Mr. Netanyahu’s fifteen total years as prime minister.
In the end, Naftali Bennett was unable to keep lasting control of power, but he was definitely able to do at least one thing: he overcame the man in power since 2009. But this does not mean Israel can relax. Benjamin Netanyahu is hoping to unify Israel’s right wing and take back control of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament. Mr. Netanyahu’s nationalist policies threaten to worsen an already tumultuous relation between the Israeli government and the State of Palestine, given that his coalition would almost certainly not be as ideologically diverse as that of Mr. Bennett, potentially making the collapse of Mr. Bennett’s government a stepping stone to regress towards Benjamin Netanyahu’s self-serving political ambition.
President Sergio Mattarella appointed Mario Draghi to lead a national unity government in an effort to confront both the enduring coronavirus pandemic and an economic slump. He succeeded Giuseppe Conte as prime minister in February 2021 after Mr. Conte resigned following the loss of support of the liberal Matteo Renzi’s Italia Viva party over disagreements about COVID-19 relief funding.
Mario Draghi started his tenure on good footing: besides the right-wing Brothers of Italy, every Italian political party said they supported Mr. Draghi’s government. His significant parliamentary majority allowed him to combat the COVID-19 pandemic swiftly by launching a nationwide vaccination campaign and to grow the Italian economy by 6.5%, an accomplishment made possible by his time as President of the European Central Bank (ECB).
Like Naftali Bennett, Mr. Draghi ran a coalition with parties from all over the political spectrum, and his hand selection by the president certainly boosted his status. Unlike Mr. Bennett, Mr. Draghi’s coalition, and his position as prime minister, did not seem to be at significant risk. For example, Italy was crowned “Country of the Year” by The Economist in 2021, with Mr. Draghi singled out as “a competent, internationally respected prime minister.” There were whispers of him seeking the presidency, signaling that some believed he had a legitimate chance of running and winning.
Despite this public image of unanimity of the Draghi Cabinet, the internal workings of government were apparently much less stable.
Hours before offering to step down, Mr. Draghi’s government won a confidence vote by a margin of 172 to 39, with the motion aimed at lessening the burden that Italians have to bear due to skyrocketing energy prices. The Five Star Movement boycotted the vote, leading Mr. Draghi to declare, “The majority of national unity that has sustained this government from its creation doesn’t exist any more.”
President Sergio Mattarella rejected Mr. Draghi’s resignation, encouraging him to attempt to find a new majority in Parliament. Mr. Mattarella still has faith in Mr. Draghi’s mutlipartisan leadership abilities, even if Mr. Draghi believes that it is in the best interest of the Italian people to leave office.
The coming days will have serious consequences on the trajectory of Italian politics, and the politics of Europe at large. Should Mr. Draghi officially resign, new elections would take place in September, raising the possibility that the Five Star Movement could once again gain control of the office of prime minister. The M5S has opposed assisting Ukraine after Russia invaded in late February of this year, prompting the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio, to leave the party. With the resignation of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the collapse of Italy’s government could leave two major European countries in disarray at a time when a united front is needed to confront significant threats such as rising prices, a looming heat wave, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Mario Draghi’s potential resignation has profound consequences not just for Italy, but for the European continent as a whole.
Threats to regional security
With significant political shake-ups in any country that plays a major role in regional politics, there is serious potential for resulting insecurity.
Israel has had five elections since 2019, which could signal to its adversaries that it lacks internal political stability. With the fall and potential resurrection of Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm of his country, the progression of Israeli foreign relations with its Arab neighbors is at risk. Iran, arguably Israel’s biggest rival, has made no secret of its opinion on Israeli statehood. Without uncorrupt, secure political leaders, Israel’s sovereignty is in danger.
Italy’s future is now in limbo, destabilizing the fourth largest economy in Europe and opening the door for more economic and political uncertainty. The prime minister’s wishes are now publicly at odds with those of the president, mirroring the internal strife that plagues Israel with Naftali Bennett’s resignation. Italy requires an irrefutable answer to its political confusion, a daunting task with severe consequences if done inadequately.
Israel and Italy are concurrently in the middle of seismic political shifts, but they both must right themselves to ensure that they can achieve their domestic and international goals. With new elections looming, Italy and Israel must stabilize their countries; both they and their neighbors depend on it.