In the days after Israel’s elections, my social media feed filled with exclamations of doom and gloom because Likud had secured the most votes and Benyamin Netanyahu would once again be named prime minister. I wrote a blog, Post-election doomsayers: Just stop, please, in which I attempted to explain how intricate Israeli politics is, with all its requisite drama and activity. “The horsetrading that takes place for smaller parties to agree to be in a coalition is something to be watched,” I wrote. “They make demands. For certain portfolios. For promises. And with each trade, the majority party dilutes its power. Politics in Israel is the national pastime. Grab a tub of popcorn, sit back and watch,” I advised. (I also included links to a number of very worthy analyses, for those interested in checking it out.)
Since then, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin asked Bibi to form a coalition, which, though close, he has been unable to secure. In order to form a majority right wing government, he needs both religious and secular parties to join forces. Avigdor Liberman’s secular right wing party, Yisrael Beytenu (literally, “Israel is our home”), insists on the one issue that Haredi parties cannot accept: the ultra-Orthodox military enlistment bill, which must be re-legislated by order of the Supreme Court. Liberman wants the existing draft passed into law unchanged and the Haredi parties want revisions. These two conditions cannot exist simultaneously.
As I pointed out in my earlier blog, Israeli politics are anything but simple. It is built on wheeling and dealing, dueling ideologies and personalities. The demands that potential coalition partners make can shape how smoothly – or not – the government functions during its term. “I have never seen someone who won an election so convincingly not reach an agreement with any party,” Liberman said. So far, Bibi has had one extension allowed by law, but with a Wednesday deadline looming ahead, faces a number of scenarios while he forges ahead with talks.
In one, his own party is threatening to propose that the Knesset be dissolved and new elections called. Likud thinks this will force potential coalition partners to reach an agreement…and Liberman has said he would back the first reading of the bill (it requires three votes in total) and that “an election would be cheaper than the coalition agreements signed with the other parties would have been.” New elections could be called within months. One of the parties, the New Right, which failed to cross the threshold of required votes – and which was led by former Likud members – has already declared that it would run again with or without one of its founders, Ayelet Shaked, and it would seek to form alliances. It sits further right politically than Likud.
It would be interesting to see how new elections would fare. A few days ago, opposition parties joined together in an alliance, one which, I think, looks more towards the future than the ruling parties do. At a large demonstration in Tel Aviv against Bibi’s attempts at putting legislation into place that would help him avoid prosecution, Blue-White party leader Benny Gantz appeared with others, including Ayman Odeh, the Israeli Arab leader of Hadash-Ta’al, who understands the future requires cooperation. “I am here today,” he declared, “because I believe that Arab Jewish partnership is the only way for hope and change in the country and the state. I firmly believe in the assertion that we Arab citizens cannot do it alone, but that without us it is impossible.”
While many political analysts expect Bibi to be able to pull it off so that the country doesn’t once again head to elections, there are still two other possible scenarios. One is that Bibi tries for another extension, via a never-before-used provision in the law. That would buy him another two weeks.
A final one is that Rivlin asks another Knesset member, from another party, to put together a coalition. Although the opposition alliance Gantz has now formed is too small, who knows? While one political insider thinks the chances are great that Bibi is able to get agreements all around by Wednesday, he also gave the Time of Israel reason to prepare another tub of popcorn or two. Simply put, “This is Israeli politics. Anything can happen.”
Even now, as I submit this blog for publication, I see the stories being updated every few minutes: Likud begs but Liberman will not join a religious government…A bill will be submitted to dissolve the government. See for yourself. Israeli politics – never a dull moment.