By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
The unexpected victory of Netanyahu’s Likud in last month’s elections in Israel was largely at the expense of the two parties ideologically closest to it: Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehud (the heir of the National Religious Party now wedded to the settler movement) and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu with immigrants from the former Soviet Union as its base.
In the coalition negotiations since the elections, these two parties seem to be paying back by making apparently inflated and unrealistic demands. Though both lost seats, the leader of each expects to have even more influence than he had in the previous government. Lieberman expects to retain his foreign ministry portfolio or, better still, be made minister of defense – and that despite pending new police investigations against some of his close party allies. Bennett is also after either of these jobs.
By all accounts, Netanyahu, Bennett and Lieberman can’t stand each other but are determined to serve in the same cabinet. One can only imagine what effect this will have on the conduct of government business and the impact on the country as a whole.
But one doesn’t have to speculate why the coalition negotiations are so protracted and why Netanyahu will need another couple of weeks to cobble together the government. Political horse trading is said to be hard work, especially with unruly allies.
Netanyahu seems to have already settled with the three other coalition partners: the two ultra-Orthodox parties and the new Kulanu party. The former will continue to drain government coffers and impose restrictions on the rest of the population promoting their religious outlook. But as many of their voters are also poor, they’ll favour measures to make life easier for the have-nots, which is said to be on the agenda of Kulanu, Its leader Moshe Kahlon is to become minister of finance and his party colleagues will get portfolios that will make it easier for the treasury to pursue its promised reforms.
That’s the only ray of hope in the new government. Otherwise, the bad news will only get worse, especially in the relationship with the US administration and the standing of Israel in Europe and elsewhere. The fact that Lieberman is likely to stay foreign minister is a reflection of this terrible state of affairs.
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin as well as other trustworthy observers of the political scene here – the distinguished academic Shlomo Avineri being one of them – may be well aware of the disastrous implications of all this for Israel’s internal well being as well as its standing in the world. That’s why they’ve been advocating a so-called unity government with the Zionist Union led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni.
But that won’t happen, it seems. Netanyahu may have threatened Bennett and Lieberman with it by promoting a spin about secret negotiations between himself and Herzog, but Herzog has again categorically denied any intention to join the coalition. He wants to be in opposition to help the country to realize that the outcome of the election was a disaster and to groom himself for high office in the next round. This may be tactically prudent for his party but, in my humble opinion, very bad news for the country.
As usual, the above is only based on media report and the speculations of pundits. Optimists are welcome to believe that the final outcome will be better than outlined here; the rest of us are getting ready to grin and bear it.