As Israeli politics fill my newsfeeds, I liken the headlines to a drama, and as a result, my social media platforms have become somewhat addictive. What happened now? Who said what? Who changed a position? Where do things stand? What is likely? Will there be a national unity government? And, perhaps most relevantly, at what price?
For the uninitiated – or those too busy and/or more disciplined than myself , I’ve found one Facebook page, IsraelElex – Israel Election 2019 English Media, that has succinct, smartly written roundups, as with this one, published Sunday (but posted before three out of four parties within the Joint List recommended to President Reuven Rivlin that he give Blue and White’s leader Benny Gantz the opportunity to form the government). As I wrote after the April elections, there is never a dull moment in Israeli politics. And with all the public declaration already made of which parties will or won’t sit with others (and the expectation that in the pursuit of power, some will find ways to revise those positions), this will certainly be the case now.
Let’s recap quickly: Blue and White came out ahead of Likud, but the right-religious bloc garnered more votes than the left-secular bloc (I actually find it interesting that Blue and White is described as being a part of a left bloc, when their policies in some ways aren’t very different than Likud’s).
The third and fourth largest parties are not being counted since the Arab Joint List isn’t expected to be part of a left grouping and so, the secular right Yisrael Beitenu’s Avigdor Liberman is being called the kingmaker, since he is needed if a coalition is to be formed along a particular axis. To make the story more lopsided, Rivlin has to decide whom to ask to try to make the coalition, now that Gantz has one fewer recommendation from lawmakers than Likud’s Benyamin Netanyahu does, since three of the four parties that make up the Joint List gave Gantz’s name. At the time of this writing, Rivlin is scheduled to meet with both of them tonight.
No matter who is chosen to put together the coalition, one option being thrown about is a national unity government, whereby Likud and Blue and White share the power. This guarantees that the coalition surpasses 61 votes. It is also what Liberman has publicly supported – and he wants to be a part of it. But for that to happen, Bibi Netanyahu would need to move out of Likud’s number one position (Yossi Klein Halevi’s powerful and nuanced piece explains why it’s time.) And if Yisrael Beiteny joins a unity government, then the head of the Joint List, Odeh Ayman, gets to be the head of the opposition, a first for the country.
Like a puzzle to be solved, a formula must be reached. The Israeli public does not want a third round of elections.
To make it happen, any party which wants to be in the government coalition makes demands. I call it horse-trading. If they had conditions before, now they must figure out what they would do to make compromising their principles palatable. And so, a party which would not sit with another because of a personality or a reason, must come up with a price and a way to sell it to their party. And for each concession the future prime minister makes, a bit more of his power is diluted.
And so, now we are hearing of religious parties which had publicly stated they would not sit with Blue and White in a government because of Yair Lapid’s past policies, e.g., the draft for ultra-Orthodox and yeshiva budget cuts, now trying to get rabbinical blessing – and putting together a list of demands – to do it anyway.
It all depends on what Blue and White wants. A piecemeal coalition or a broader national unity government. If their aim is to include Likud, who else do they want? How broad should it go? On the other side, if Bibi is asked to put together the coalition, assuming Liberman doesn’t change his position vis-à-vis the religious parties, he would have no choice but to go for a national unity government. Though rebuffed already on that front, it would have to be the way – and would require Bibi to put himself aside for the greater good of the party and the government, or, as Klein Halevi phrased it, he “will be forced to concede defeat.”
Switching gears a moment, I want to share with you some recent bits of inspiration. In one communications class, we are discussing how the internet has facilitated a major change in how we consume information; it is no longer uni-directional to the masses, but bi-directional. Another byproduct of having platforms which allow strangers to share is the popularity of crowdsourcing (ideas, especially) and crowdfunding. The gig economy most certainly has added to the ingenuity of single one-off ways to do things, work, sell, collaborate, make money, donate, purchase, etc. (One new and interesting idea I’ve just read about is an app by ultra-Orthodox Jews to rent out private pools on an hourly or daily basis.) There is a democratization of sorts when a video by an unknown can catapult a career or a million people fund a politician’s campaign. If major companies or donors become less influential, does it follow that individuals will matter more? What about in the public sphere? I say, why not. In fact, a former foreign secretary of India has made a very good case for crowdsourcing foreign policy.
And so, inspired by these and other examples of crowdsourcing, even though unasked, I offer up my own suggestion for a way out of the how-to-reach-61 dilemma. Blue and White and Likud share, with Yisrael Beitenu too. I would say it could be opened to other parties willing to compromise on their positions, but I am not sure that is necessary. The horse-trading might become too unwieldy for former generals not used to political compromise. For this arrangement, the rotation of prime ministers takes place without Bibi – he moves to the second spot on the Likud list, but is promised the Foreign Ministry (not only because he and Gantz are aligned on that front, but he really has done a great job opening Israel’s relationship to African and Gulf nations, for example) and perhaps Gantz also grants him immunity from the expected charges.
Here’s your chance: what would YOU suggest?