Analysis: Coalition conflicts are still to come

The coalition Netanyahu formed is far from being the one he wanted, and the feud over meaningless titles that held up reaching a coalition agreement is likely just a preview of many battles ahead over more serious issues.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
March 15, 2013 06:22
3 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, March 10, 2013.

Sad Bibi 370. (photo credit: Pool/Maariv)

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.

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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 crises.

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 copy.

That was the old government. In with the new.

The needless feud over meaningless titles that held up reaching a coalition agreement Thursday is likely just a preview of many battles ahead over more serious issues.

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.

The 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 be intense.

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.


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