Israel on Verge of Revealing New Government

President Obama is supposed to be in Israel in about two weeks. Israel doesn’t have a government.

The Israeli elections were on January 22. Contrary to widespread expectations, the right didn’t score a big win; instead the electorate returned complex, angular results. The religious right gained, the secular right lost a lot, and a brand-new party that could be loosely described as secular-centrist, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, made a big splash by coming in second with 19 seats (out of a total of 120 in the Knesset).

Binyamin Netanyahu, for whom the election results were sufficient for a third tenure as prime minister, has been trying ever since to negotiate his way to a coalition. It’s been brutal.

The basic struggle pits, on the one side, Netanyahu, striving for as broad a coalition as possible including the two haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) parties. And on the other, an alliance that has formed between secular-centrist Lapid and Naftali Bennett, head of the nationalist-religious Habayit Hayehudi party that also did well in the elections. Bennett wants to weaken the haredi camp; Lapid insists on excluding it from the coalition entirely.

Just now, the Israeli media is reporting that the very tight (at present) Lapid-Bennett alliance has prevailed, with Netanyahu agreeing to their terms—meaning that a coalition without the haredim is on the way, possibly by the end of this week.

What’s at stake here? Netanyahu’s preference for a wide coalition is easily understandable. Wide coalitions are more stable, with no one party wielding extortionate power (by threatening to bolt the coalition and thereby dissolve it). Netanyahu also sees Israel facing critical security (particularly Iran), diplomatic (particularly getting along with Obama), and economic (particularly budget-cutting) challenges for which a wide coalition can give him the most ballast.

Netanyahu also wants to preserve his secular-right Likud Party’s alliance with the haredi parties, which goes back four decades; excluding these parties could lead them to punish Likud in the next elections.

Lapid and Bennett, however—particularly the former—insist that Israel cannot keep allowing most haredi men to refuse army service, and to live cloistered lives as yeshiva students on the public dole. They say having the haredi parties in the coalition will inevitably lead to compromises on these issues that will ensure the situation stays the same.

A large majority of Israelis, right, left, and center, agree that the present situation with the haredim is untenable. The Lapid-Bennett alliance, however, has been criticized as cynical and opportunistic; some say these two novice politicians, intoxicated with their electoral success, are essentially confronting Netanyahu with a power play and securing plum ministerial positions for themselves.

In particular, whereas Bennett—whom foreign media have portrayed as a “hip settler”—is, while not actually a settler, supposed to be sympathetic to their outlook, Lapid—while projecting himself as a centrist during the election campaign—actually has a backlog of viciously anti-settler statements (usefully collated here by Israeli commentator Martin Sherman) typical of the far left.

They do indeed, then, form an odd couple; and there is ample reason to fear that a coalition of Netanyahu’s, Lapid’s, Bennett’s, and a couple of smaller parties would be creaky and possibly cacophonous.

On the economic front, with Netanyahu, Lapid, and Bennett all sharing a free-market philosophy, the prospects of such a coalition tackling Israel’s economic challenges effectively are bright. The diplomatic front is a good deal more complicated.

Claims and speculations about Obama’s upcoming visit vary widely—from a report Monday on World Tribune that he intends to demand a West Bank withdrawal to Secretary of State John Kerry’s assurances that he only seeks to “listen.” Potentially, Lapid’s more dovish party could provide an ideal pressure point for a U.S. administration seeking to harry and ultimately undo Netanyahu.

One hopes, then, that the key figures of whatever coalition finally forms will put politics aside and face Israel’s challenges responsibly. Foremost among those challenges is Iran; as Netanyahu put it in a speech two weeks ago:

Iran’s development of nuclear weapons will make the Middle East a nuclear tinderbox. It will change the world…. Sanctions alone will not stop the nuclear program of Iran….

Although Obama, too, claims he’s determined to stop Iranian nukes, his choice of defense secretary casts a thick shadow over his credibility. The situation calls for maximal Israeli unity and seriousness.

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  • AdinaK

    Without a shadow of a doubt, power plays are always the hallmark of Israel's electoral politics, and this is due to the untenable system of non-representation – corrupt party lists.
    On the one hand, the notion that Bibi is right wing is ridiculous. After all, he opened up his last term with the decidedly non-right wing plank, a "two state solution". The nationalist camp hardly gave him a mandate for handing over Judea & Samaria. In essence, he, like Sharon, betrayed his voters. Thus, they took their own revenge, this time voting "Tet-Bet", Bennet's Party –

    Most significantly, the facts on the ground cannot wait for Israel's dysfunctional system to catch up, so Bibi better pull off more than the usual dickering –

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel

    • retired

      Adina,I have to agree with you.
      Netanyahu looks more & more like a 2 faced phoney.
      1) Like all of the other politicians,in the well as Israel,much of what we see & hear from him is contradictory & makes little sense.The politicians make no sense until we understand that conspiracy & collusion are their stock & trade!
      Netanyahu's wheeling & dealing is confusing to the public who assume that he is working for them & what he say's is what he means!The reality is that he works for the oligarchs behind the scene who call the shots.The factors that are hidden behind the curtain are what,if they ever were exposed to the public,would make sense of all the confusion.The public,like the Captain of the Titanic,never see the 80% of the iceberg below the water.As some wit in the past said "The Golden Rule is….He who has the gold rules".
      As for the Haredi parties & Shas,they will rubber stamp whatever policies they are told to as long as they get their graft.They are in a separate world from the political Zionist venture.They participate by using their votes as a sellable commodity,Netanyahu buys them off & keeps their vote in his pocket.Groucho Marx could have been talking about the Haredi years ago when he said "Those are my principles & if you don't like them…..well i have others".


  • trump


    Agreed,bibi is left wing like livni

  • WildJew

    Bennett and his party HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) is the unknown. Likud campaign officials spent much political capital trying to undermine Jewish Home during the campaign, characterizing them as extremists, etc. Reports indicate Obama has suicidal demands in store for Israel. Let us hope HaBayit HaYehudi will bolster this prime minister's spine when dealing with a dedicated foe like Obama.

    • WilliamJamesWard

      Dealing with Obama will be dealing with the greatest agent of the Muslim Brotherhood.

  • Mladen Andrijasevic

    "Claims and speculations about Obama’s upcoming visit vary widely—from a report Monday on World Tribune that he intends to demand a West Bank withdrawal

    Demand West Bank withdrawal? Let’s face it, Article 7 of the Hamas Charter reads:
      ”The hour of judgment shall not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, so that the Jews hide behind trees and stones, and each tree and stone will say: ‘Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him,’ except for the Gharqad tree, for it is the tree of the Jews.” 
    Article 7 is taken from   Hadith Bukhari  Volume 4, Book 52, Number 177 and quotes the Prophet Muhammad:
    Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. “O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.” 
    The Palestinians in the West Bank did not take  Hadith Bukhari  Volume 4, Book 52, Number 177 and make it into an article of their Charter. But it is in the Hadith and therefore part of the source texts they follow.

    Regarding the coalition, we better get our priorities right:
    Whom do you trust more to handle Iran – Netanyahu or Lapid?

  • Roger

    The fact Bibi still stands must anger Obama.

    I'm glad, and I'm also glad Israel doesn't bow to our dictator.

    • AnOrdinaryMan

      You don't yet know what Netanyahu's response will be when Obama demands Israeli withdrawal from the west bank. Meanwhile, Hamas has taken advantage of this situation, by firing a rocket at Ashkelon.

    • WilliamJamesWard

      They should leave Obama in a waiting room when they have dinner…………..William

  • Asher

    Will Obama visit the Temple Mount or the Wailing Wall, or both? Will he praise Muslims, or Jews? I think we all know the answer to that one. One thing is for sure, recommending that Jerusalem be divided will bring an even worse situation to Israel, the leaders should stand against giving any more Land for Peace.

    • Hannah

      I beg the people of Israel, "Do not trust Obama" he HATES Israel, he HATES the jewish and wants the jewish of Israel dead and gone…Obama IS a muslim, a practicing muslim…Obama HATES America he HATES American citizens and plans to kill alll American citizens and he plans to give America to the Muslim brotherhood…I beg Israel NOT to give Obama NONE of Israel's land…Don't let Obama get NONE of Jerusalem…

  • Hannah

    Dearest Israel, do NOT trust Barack Obama, he is a danger to Israel and America…Obama is a danger to the world! Obama is a muslim that had the White House BOUGHT for him to dismantle America, kill the American citizens and he plans on giving America to the Muslim brotherhood…Obama HATES Israel, he HATES the jewish… Obama HATES America, he HATES the American citizens…Obama/Mursi/Ahmadinejad have close ties of friendship…Obama is a Muslim/Nazi/Dictator…Don't be fooled by Obama…Obama wants to kill the Jews of Israel and take your land…Mursi of Egypt is calling Jerusalem the land of Egypt…

  • κατεργάζομαι

    From the moment the Jewish People re-established sovereignty in their ancient homeland,…………….

    Israel sought genuine peace with all of their neighbors.

    Unfortunately, their Obama-neighbors did not wish to share a peaceful existence with them.

    They, like Bin Ladin, felt that they had a religious obligation to destroy the non-Arab/Muslim Jewish State (and, for that matter, ALL non-Arab/Moslem governments in the world).

    The OBAMA – Arab campaign against Israel is rooted not in any negotiable grievances but in a basic opposition to the very existence of Jewish sovereignty in what they perceive as THEIR Middle East! The ultimate intent of the Arabs is to separate out a Jewish history from "Palestine"… and then to separate Israel from the face of the Earth.

  • bubbaland1

    This column is a transparent attempt to whitewash Netanyahu's weak and franky whimpy image. Netanyahu would not have had problems had he not demonized Bennett and the settlers. Furthermore, Netanyahu is always talking tough about Iran and has done absolutely nothing, and I my opinion will do nothing as he is at heart a blowhard. Netanyahu may really believe that he is cut of the same cloth as Churchill but this is laughable. Churchill had backbone. I suspect that Netanyahu will go down in history as the Israeli prime minister with a cardboard bomb and right magic marker.