Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Coalition formation problems in Israel

Sheldon Adelson's free newspaper, Israel Hayom, is reporting that Benjamin Netanyahu told Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid that the foreign ministry is being reserved for Israel Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman to return to once his legal problems have gone away. Israel Beitenu ran in a joint list, Likud Beitenu, with Likud in the recent election. Netanyahu is leaving Yesh Atid the choice of the finance ministry or another major economic ministry.  He is also offering the party the defense ministry. Netanyahu has also indicated that he wants the ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) parties in his coalition government. This will make it much harder for Yesh Atid to join as it ran in opposition to the ultra-Orthodox immunity from military service and religious coercion on personal identity issues such as marriage, divorce, and conversion.

Netanyahu's first government was dominated by the Israeli Right. It ended up collapsing in 1999 after Netanyahu agreed to territorial concessions to the Palestinians at the Wye River summit in October 1998. When Netanyahu ran a second time for prime minister in 2008 he claimed that he had learned his lesson and wanted a more balanced coalition. His second coalition from February 2009 to January 2013 consisted of a mixture of secular Right parties, religious parties, and Labor until Labor left in 2010 leaving a splinter party, Etzmaut (Independence). He now appears to be setting it up so that he will have another coalition like his first government. This would give him cover against any American pressure from Washington to either make territorial concessions or enact a settlement freeze as he agreed to in 2010. 

Netanyahu's calculation is probably that voters who vote for centrist parties are fickle, and if Yesh Atid remains in opposition its voters will migrate to another party in the next election. He has much evidence for this as the Israeli Center has gone from the Center Party and Shinui in 1999 to Shinui in 2003 to Kadima in 2006 and 2009 to Yesh Atid in the election last month. This may force Lapid to settle for an economic ministry rather than to hold out as Kadima leader Tzipi Livni did in 2009 and end up losing control of the party to a challenger. Livni lost control of Kadima to former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz last summer, but she received six seats with her own new Movement party compared to Kadima's two seats in the recent election. So Lapid will be faced with the danger of entering the government and going back on his election promises or suffering in opposition. Israel's first two major Center parties, Rafi (1965) and the Democratic Movement for Change (1976) confronted this dilemma. Former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion opted for remaining in opposition when his Rafi party deserted him to form the Labor Party with Mapai and Ahdut Ha'Avoda in 1968. Ben-Gurion headed a four-man faction in the Knesset until he retired from politics in 1970. Former Chief of Staff Yigael Yadin joined Begin's first Likud governmet in 1977 and his party ended up splitting in 1978. He retired from politics in 1981 a broken man.

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