Netanyahu Forms Government At Last Minute, Beating Deadline
As expected, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was able to reach an agreement with several smaller parties to allow him to form a government before yesterday’s deadline expired:
JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel barely met the legal deadline to form a new government on Wednesday night and will start his fourth term with the slimmest of parliamentary majorities, made up of right-leaning and religious parties.
Mr. Netanyahu and his Likud Party celebrated a surprisingly strong victory in the March 17 elections after a divisive campaign, but ended up scrambling to scrape together 61 of Parliament’s 120 members into a coalition — and hold on to his premiership. He was forced to make major concessions to the more conservative Jewish Home party, and emerged weakened to lead a government that Israeli experts said was unlikely to last long or do much.
“Netanyahu simply miscalculated,” said Eytan Gilboa, a professor at Bar-Ilan University who specializes in politics and communications. “What you see here is a big political mess that, I think, shows Netanyahu has been too confident.” Of the new coalition, he added, “Nobody in his right mind believes that this will hold for even a short time.”
Mr. Netanyahu and the head of the Jewish Home, Naftali Bennett, appeared together at Israel’s Parliament building shortly before 11 p.m. to tell reporters they had sealed the deal. The two men, who have clashed frequently over politics, policy and personal matters, shook hands after two days of fierce negotiations.
“Mr. Prime Minister, we are behind you for the success of the country and the government you head,” Mr. Bennett said in comments broadcast on Israeli radio.
Mr. Netanyahu indicated that he would still try to lure other parties to the coalition to strengthen it. “I said that 61 is a good number, and that 61-plus is even better,” he said. “But it begins with 61, and we will get started. There is a great deal of work ahead of us.”
Many Israeli analysts said the last-minute deal-making and the narrow government it produced pointed to problems in Israel’s fractured political system. Ten parties split the seats in Parliament, with the largest, Likud, winning 30, a quarter of the total. The final frenzy of negotiating came after Monday’s surprise announcement that Israel’s unpredictable and ultranationalist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, would not join the new government.
“It’s more like a soap opera than serious politics,” said Gideon Rahat, a professor of political science at Hebrew University.
“In every other country, if the largest party has 30 seats, this is ridiculous, this is not a victory,” he added. “In normal countries, such a result is the best loser. We have a problem with our government system and this fragmentation.”
“It’s a weak government, numerically but not only numerically — they are not singing the same song,” said Tamar Hermann, a political scientist at Israel’s Open University. “The question is whether Netanyahu will be able to orchestrate them effectively.”
One of the things that means, most likely, is that we’re likely to see little change in Israeli policy toward the Palestinians or Iran for the time being. This is especially true since the alliance leans far enough to the right that it would be hard for Netanyahu to maintain power if he made any radical changes in policy in those areas. In on interesting development, the Prime Minister is reportedly seeking to name his rival in the national elections in March as Foreign Minister, but it’s unclear if that offer would be taken seriously. Additionally, even if it were, it seems unlikely that there would be a significant change in policy.
In any case, with the government formed, the question now is how long it lasts.
Netanyahu will have to form a government with ultra right wing parties any one of which could threaten to pull out if they don’t get what they want. This is a very temporary reprieve for Bibi and the coalition won’t last long.
Obviously what is needed here is another speech to a joint session of Congress.
This coalition only shows to the international community what Netanyahu proved in the final moments of the election: there won’t be a two-state solution while Netanyahu remains in power, and now he doesn’t have the cover a centrist or center-left appointment to different ministries might have provided.
As Israel devolves into a greater and greater mess it is solidly cemented with Republicans in the American public eye. If, eventually, Netanyahu falls and if things get better (admittedly that second “if” is a pretty big one) the Dems are free to step back in.
In backing Netanyahu and encouraging him to actively and publicly challenge the American president the Republicans made a cold calculation: they could buy more votes with the money from conservative Jewish billionaires and End-Times Christian Evangelicals than they would lose by working against their own country. But as Netanyahu’s racist coalition members keep popping up in the news and he has to provoke the Palestinians and the secular Israeli community more and more in an effort to keep this coalition together, that calculation may tip the other way.
As an American Jew, I continue to be disappointed by the paranoid-rightward home security drift of the Israeli government, which lacks the progressive spirit of so many American Jews. I only wish that the centrist coalition in Israel could have won the election and furthered the peace efforts with the Palestinians as well as the other Arab states in the region. Netanyahu’s politics are hardly helpful at this time to the overall true security goals of Israel.