Winning the Election May Prove Easier than Forming a Government
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Leaving aside the looming crisis with Iran, when Israelis begin to form a new Government it is always a time which brings out two fundamentally opposite reactions within Israeli society. On the one hand, there is rightful pride that the nation feels seeing a relatively young democracy, once again passing through the electoral process successfully. There is a sense of hope and optimism about the new Government, about the future, about renewal. On the other hand, this is a time when all the fundamental societal problems and issues festering below the surface emerge. As Netanyahu proceeds to cobble together a new coalition which somehow reflects the will of a majority of the people, he will be publically addressing all the problems that are festering within Israeli society.
In choosing coalition partners he will be deciding in front of his country and the entire world how he views the tension, between the ultra-Orthodox (the Haredim) and the secular; the continuing bitterness between the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim; the serious economic gap between those who are prospering and those who stuggling; as well as those who favor the serious resumption of negotiations with Palestinians versus those who oppose doing so. It is specifically with respect to rekindling these talks that ultimately may decide the nature of the coalition and even if Netanyahu will be able to form a Government.
Manifestations of how Bibi is leaning will become quickly evident once he completes his first round of courtesy conversation with all the major parties. If Netanyahu then decides to begin peace process negotiations, he can join his 31 Likud-Beiteinu seats with the 19 of Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, leaving him needing only 11 more seats to achieve a Knesset majority. These seats he can garner from the religious parties (Shas with 11 and United Torah Judaism with 7) who presumably will overcome their ambivalence about the peace process if Bibi puts Haredi military conscription on a very slow track. If he does that he will need to placate Lapid by at least demanding national service for the haredim. Alternatively, Bibi could give lip service to a peace process and move to the right with HaBayit HaYehudi’s 11 seats plus the two religious parties giving him 60. In either case he would need to add Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah party with its six seats and or Kadima with its two seats.
At this point there are other unresolved obstacles to both options. The Likud-Beiteinu ticket is much more right wing than it was in the previous Knesset. Its members may not support any movement on peace negotiations. Netanyahu would then be blocked from within his own party. Finally, there reportedly remains very bad blood between Naftali Bennet, the leader of HaBayit HaYehudi—who was Netanyahu’s closest political adviser for several years–and Sara and Bibi Netanyahu. This could totally derail the formulation of a hand line right-wing Government; creating an opportunity for an alternative leader to try building a Government or calling for new elections which at this time Bibi would likely lose.