Political correspondents in the US have it easier than their Israeli
counterparts in one way and a harder job in another.
On one hand,
American political reporters have only two parties to cover. In Israel 34
parties ran in the election and 12 got into the Knesset, including three that
were really two parties running together.
But on the other, elections in
Israel – as tense as they are – tend to last just three months. In America, they
go on for a dizzying three years.
In between elections in Israel, there
tends to be plenty of political turmoil to write about. Parties elect new
leaders, politicians get investigated, and divisive issues cause coalition
Yet for the better part of the past four years, political turmoil
in Israel was relatively tame. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu succeeded in
keeping his coalition quiet, with only two-thirds of Labor leaving and Kadima
coming and going in a blink of an eye.
If it weren’t for the primary
elections in Labor, Kadima and Bayit Yehudi that replaced Ehud Barak, Tzipi
Livni and Daniel Herschkowitz with Shelly Yacimovich, Shaul Mofaz, and Naftali
Bennett, political correspondents at times would have been desperate for
That was the old government. In with the new.
needless feud over meaningless titles that held up reaching a coalition
agreement Thursday is likely just a preview of many battles ahead over more
The coalition Netanyahu will present at the Knesset is
not even close to being the one he wanted. He made very clear that he preferred
to include both haredi parties, he wanted Labor in and Yesh Atid out, and if he
and his wife, Sara, had their way, Bennett would not be a minister.
old government was cohesive on key issues. The only faction on the Left, Ehud
Barak’s five Independence MKs, were bought off with four ministries. Yisrael
Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman, who was a thorn in the side of past prime ministers,
was happily in control of every cabinet post and Knesset committee that dealt
with law enforcement and the justice system.
The new coalition has its
share of divides. On the Palestinian issue, there is bitter Amram Mitzna on the
Left and Hebron’s Orit Struck on the Right. On security, battles between
incoming defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and his dovish deputy Ofer Shelah could
On the socioeconomic issue, Yesh Atid’s capitalists such as
millionaire bank financier Yaakov Peri will confront populist Likudniks like
Miri Regev. On matters of religion and state, it remains to be seen how well
Bayit Yehudi’s nationalist haredi Rabbi Eliahu Ben-Dahan, who will control the
Religious Services Ministry, will jive with some of the secularist legislators
in Yesh Atid.
Then there will be the challenge of changing the electoral
system. One of the reasons Liberman wants to raise the electoral threshold is to
try to kill off Arab parties and Meretz. Will Yesh Atid’s Yael German, who was
in Meretz for decades, fight to save her old friends? Then again, many of the
proposed changes are intended to make it harder to overthrow governments and
make it easier for them to complete four-year terms.
Some of those
changes, such as a special majority for no-confidence votes, can already be
passed now and take effect immediately. Others will make it easier for
future governments to be stable.
Theoretically, the new coalition could
last until its official date, November 7 2017, well after US President Barack
Obama has retired to Chicago or Hawaii or taken up a post as secretary-general
of the United Nations.
But it is a lot more likely that correspondents in
Israel will be busy covering elections again long before that.