Coalition Talks in Israel

knesset-seats

I am sure you already know that the Israeli President, Shimon Peres, asked Binyamin Netanyahu to form a government. He has about 6 weeks to solidify a ruling coalition.

Unlike in America, in Israel there are many different parties. The USA used to have Republicans and Democrats and Independents. Today – it seems – there are only Democrats left who rule the country, under their newly elected Muslim president, Barack Hussein Obama.

In Israel’s past elections, the party that won the most Knesset seats was always given the opportunity to form the next coalition as prime minister. Now, here comes the joker! In this year’s February 10 elections, the centrist Kadima party won the most seats, but the Likud rightist party has a larger block of rightist parties than the Kadima center/leftist block. (See pie-chart…)

The Likud lost the election by one seat, but the winning party Kadima couldn’t find the needed 61 Knesset Seats to form the government. Just imagine! There are now 12 different parties in the current Knesset. (Another 18 failed to get enough votes to make the threshold.)

None of this pleases President Hussein’s Administration. They openly wanted Kadima to be in charge. In fact Obama sent George Mitchell to Israel last week and his first stop was to talk with Livni in hopes of somehow stopping Likud and the right wing parties in Israel.

Netanyahu invited Tzipi Livni and her Kadima party to join Likud in a ‘unity’ government, but she’s resisting since she favors giving half of Israel to the Palestinians. She publicly declared that she will not serve in Netanyahu’s cabinet because he “cannot even say the words ‘two states for two peoples,’ so clearly he can’t commit to advancing that goal.”

As it looks right now, Netanyahu could form a government with 65 Knesset seats by bringing into the government several of the smaller right wing parties. What this also means is that Netanyahu will be constantly under pressure to conform to the wishes of these small parties in not giving away any of the land of Israel. The narrow rightist block with its powerful ultra-Orthodox partners is easy enough to please as long as they get money and “keep the status quo,” meaning control of who can marry whom, who can receive citizenship, and who can convert to Judaism, and under what circumstances.

That brings yet another difficulty for Bibi Netanyahu and his Likud party. The fourth largest party, Israel Beitenu (Israel our House), and its leader Avigdor Lieberman won many of his 15 seats through the votes of Russian immigrants who want to end the stifling control of the ultra-Orthodox over their civil rights. In short, it would be difficult for Lieberman and Shas and the other religious parties to serve in the same coalition.

Furthermore, Netanyahu could not be excited about facing the world with an extremely narrow rightist block perceived both in Israel and abroad as inflexible and obstinate as regards to progress with the Palestinians. This type of coalition would probably not last long.

For the last 25 years, Israel has muddled through a series of prime ministers who rise and fall every couple of years. The coalitions – needing 61 seats out of parliament’s 120 – are so wobbly, so untenable, that any prime minister who finally puts together a coalition must continually spend an inordinate amount of time just trying to stay afloat rather than governing the nation. – Theoretically (but not always true) the larger the coalition, the more stable the government.

Of course the Knesset could change the laws of this dysfunctional coalition-type government. But until now, the ultra-Orthodox parties, afraid they might lose seats, have always blocked all parliamentary attempts.

Since Israeli governments fall with ease and are formed with enormous difficulty, the best thing to come out of this fiasco so far is the pubic campaign gaining momentum to call for a long overdue reform of the defunct electoral system.

The Israel Democracy Institute – a nonpartisan group – has been gaining traction calling for electing individual Knesset members who represent regions, instead of voting for national parties.

But with all its surrounding threats, Israel truly doesn’t have the luxury of time for coalition bargaining.

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