The parties of the current governing coalition are all starting to seek their own political interests instead of those of the coalition as a whole. If this continues, new elections are looming.
The battle over the budget was a difficult one this year. Yesh Atid (There is a Future) Party Leader and Finance Minister Yair Lapid held out for a budget that did not raise taxes. The recent conflict with Hamas was a costly one, however, and it had to be paid for somehow. Adding debt and raising Israel’s deficit above 3.5% was not how Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu intended to pay for the conflict. But it was the only avenue left open to him by his rebellious coalition partner. Although a budget was ultimately passed, this battle demonstrated clearly that the coalition is more fractious and less stable than was previously thought.
Lapid has proposed a “zero VAT” bill (Value Added Tax = sales tax) aimed at waiving the VAT on home purchases for first time homebuyers. Lapid sees this as a flagship bill that would give his party a much needed boost in the polls and a chance at relevance in the next Knesset. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, the leader of the Yisrael Beteinu (Israel is Our Home) Party splashed cold water on the plan when he recently delayed a vote on the bill in the powerful Finance Committee, a critical step in the parliamentary process. Liberman strongly opposes the bill. The two party leaders seem to be very much at impasse.
Rumors abound that Lapid is in secret negotiations aimed creating at a government that he himself would lead. Other rumors suggest that efforts are afoot to replace Bibi with Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog. Neither scenario is likely, new elections are much more likely, yet the fact that such rumors are more than just idle speculation is telling.
Yet another intra-coalition fight also looms large. Bayit Hayehudi (Home for the Jews) Party leader Naftali Bennet has proposed a “Jewish State” law, an amendment to the Basic Law to require consideration of Israel’s Jewish character. He claims that without the law the Supreme Court will apply the Law of Return to non-Jews. Currently those who are not technically Jewish (that is, their mother was not Jewish) can be included in the law of return if they at least had a Jewish grandparent. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads the centre-left Hatnuah (the Movement) Party, disagrees and says Bennet’s bill will detract from the democratic character of Israel. Livni recently read a quote of Israel’s right leaning founding father Ze’ev Jabotinsky (of whom this author is a great fan) stating:
“I do not think that a state’s constitution should include special articles explicitly ensuring the national character. A sign of a good constitution is if few such articles are found in it.”
Bennet claims that without the bill’s passage there will be no coalition. Yet another major fracture in the coalition. Bennet has the least to fear from new elections since his party actually polls ahead of its current parliamentary faction. New elections would be to his advantage. Almost every other coalition party would stand to lose ground.
Thus far, the coalition has been able to bridge its deep divides over major issues in order to remain intact and in power. As of today, it does not look good for the coalition’s future.
Tensions are rising over the Temple Mount, car attacks, and knife attacks. Arab-Israelis have been rioting over a questionable police shooting that is under investigation. The news is also out that the European Union is demanding that Israel make peace with the Palestinians in order to improve relations with Europe. If Israel had a magic bullet that could produce peace, it would certainly have employed it by now. It takes two to tango, if the Palestinians wanted peace it would have been done some time ago.
These pressures will also bear down on the coalition. Now would not be an excellent time for an election. Given the passage of the budget one can hope, at least, that the coalition will live out the year. If elections are held, they will likely produce Bibi’s reelection and a stronger right. It is curious that those in the centre-left who have the most to lose at new elections are quickly setting Israel on a path toward them.