5/6/15 Netanyahu Forms Coalition in the Last Moment

by Marc Schulman

Tonight with 90 minutes to spare Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that he had reached an agreement with enough coalition partners to form a new government
Six months ago – for reasons that have never been truly clear – Prime Minister Netanyahu fired his key coalition partners and precipitated the call for new elections. At the time, his explanation was that he could not govern effectively with the coalition that he had. PM Netanyahu contended he needed a new elections, after which his party would be stronger, and thus he would be better able to govern.

Prime Minister Netanyahu received half of what he wished for … He indeed was re-elected with a much larger Likud party as his base, but that did not help him form a stronger, broader government. In the days immediately following the election, the headlines were all about the victory that Netanyahu achieved. Under Israeli law the newly elected Prime Minister designate has four weeks (with a two week extension, if needed) to put together a coalition. As has been his habit, PM Netanyahu moved slowly, nearly using every hour of the time allotted for forming a coalition Going into the last day of negotiations for creating a coalition, it was not clear that Netanyahu would get support from the requisite 61 Members of Knesset.

48 hours ago – in what in retrospect seems like preplanned move to inflict the maximum pain on Prime Minister Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced he was resigning and going into the opposition. This left Netanyahu no time to try to create a larger government with the Zionist camp led by Herzog, and in the best case, gave him a government of 61 seats. Two weeks ago, Israeli political observers were saying that Netanyahu would never form a government with only a one seat advantage, since that would create a situation where any one Knesset member would be able to bring down the government (but more on that later).

However, faced with the option of forming a government of 61 or losing power, Netanyahu chose a government of 61. Though, even to achieve that, Netanyahu had one last gauntlet to run threw – getting the HaBayit Hayehudi, the Nationalist Religious Party of Naftali Bennett to agree to join the government (after Netanyahu in his haste to get the Shas party to agree to join, gave the Shas party full control of the Religious Affairs Ministry; a ministry that has always been very important to Bennett’s party.) In retaliation, Bennett cut off negotiations with the Likud and made it clear that unless his party’s his second command MK Ayelet Shaked became Justice Minister, he would not join the coalition, thereby dooming Netanyahu’s efforts. This afternoon Netanyahu caved and agreed to give the Justice Ministry to MK Shaked, who has been one of the leading critics of the Israel’s Justice system.

So with 90 minutes to spare, Netanyahu has achieved his coalition of 61. That coalition will be nearly impossible to hold together. The government will need every vote to pass legislation, one member who is upset and calls in “sick” can undermine the passing of any legislation, and even force the government to fall. This is especially true in this current Knesset, where there is no love lost between either the Prime Minister and his coalition members, or even between the different parts of the coalition.

Furthermore, since in the Israeli system cabinet members are also members of the parliament, every minister (including the Prime Minister) will be needed constantly to ensure that the government’s bills are passed and those of the opposition are not. With a 1 point majority this seems like a Herculean task. Observers claim tonight that as soon as the government is sworn in Netanyahu will turn to the leader of the opposition, Yitzhak Herzog and ask him to join the government (in return for allowing Herzog a rotation to serve as Prime Minister at the end of the current Knesset term.) Whether that happens, and whether Herzog would accept that offer are open questions. What is clear is that Prime Minister Netanyahu will be presenting his new government to to the Knesset next week. The new government will be very far from the government he hoped to create. It is one of the most unstable governments to ever be established in Israel’s history.