The new Israeli Coalition Government

Two weeks ago I posted the article below (in blue) prematurely by mistake, intending instead that it be the draft of a later blog when the formation of the new Israeli Coalition Government was complete.  Now after the maximum period of time has elapsed, the Coalition is now complete and has been announced by PM Netanyahu.  There is one huge difference between what I and most others thought then and what has actually happened.  That is that the Coalition has only 61 seats, the minimum majority out of 120 in the Knesset, because the Israel Beitanu Party of Avigdor Lieberman (with 6 seats) refused to join the Coalition under the current circumstances.  I will try to explain why later.

“After PM Netanyahu won the election when his Likud party received more seats than any other party (38), he was tasked with forming a new coalition government.  The problem looked easy, the right wing had 67 seats altogether, including Israel Beitanu (Lieberman), Bayit Yehudi (Bennett), the religious parties (Shas, UTJ), and Kulanu of former Likud member Kahlon.  But, there were lots of problems, notably each party had its own requirements that were contradictory to those of another.  This is coalition politics, and Netanyahu is a master at this game.

Basically he told Bennett that he could not be Foreign Minister, because he had reserved that for Lieberman, and he told Kahlon that he although he could be Finance Minister, he could not control every financial appointment.  The religious parties wanted their share of economic influence as well.  He bought Bennett off with the Education Ministry and now the pieces are fitting into place.”

So the question arises, why did Lieberman refuse to join this Coalition and make it a more stable Government, even when PM Netanyahu kept the Foreign Ministry portfolio for him against the pressure of Naftali Bennett of the Bayit Yehudi Party, who wanted that position for himself?  The answer is simply because Netanyahu made coalition agreements with the religious parties (UTJ and Shas) before those of his more natural right-wing partners in Israel Beitanu and Bayit Yehudi, and in doing so he gave away a political position regarding the universal draft to the IDF applying to everyone, including the ultra-orthodox.   This was a main aim of the religious parties, to over-turn the law introduced by the previous Government, in which the religious parties were excluded,  and that was a major policy concern of Lieberman and Israel Beitanu.  As a consequence, over this reversal of principle by Netanyahu, Lieberman felt he could not support the current government and decided to go into the opposition.

In order to attain the minimum Coalition requirement at the last moment Netanyahu and Bennett agreed to a deal in which Bayit Yehudi gets four out of the 18 portfolios, Bennett gets the Education and Diaspora Ministries, Ayelet Shaked gets the Justice Ministry and they also get the Agriculture Ministry.  This agreement was a major concession by Netanyahu, but he saved 10 Ministries for his own Likud Party, including the Defense and Foreign Ministries.

One can criticize Netanyahu for being without principles and playing politics, but after all that is precisely what forming a coalition requires (as the British are about to find out).  You could criticize Lieberman and Bennett for holding out from joining Netanyahu over differences between them based largely on personal considerations (who gets what portfolios) allowing the religious parties to get in first and cement their own interests.  Whoever is to blame, the fact is that Israel now has a very unstable Government with a majority of one, that could be over-turned in any emergency.  We should all blame the politicians for doing what they do best, putting their own interests first before those of the country.

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