Several weeks ahead of the last election, an analysis in The Jerusalem Post issued a warning against reading anything political between then and the election, because of politicians saying things that would not be true.
While that warning was useful, it did not help sell any papers. So this time the warning will have to be: Yes, read political articles, but be careful not to believe what the politicians say.
Just like you might have a good relationship with someone who drinks hard liquor but prefer to not trust them behind the wheel when they are under the influence of alcohol, an election is the worst time to judge even the best of the politicians.
That is when they are under the influence of strategists, pollsters, polls, and yes, headlines in the media. It is the time when politicians are least likely to be themselves.
Between now and March 17, politicians will talk about their past and try to persuade you that they meant well but whatever went wrong was the other guy’s fault. They will talk about the present and say whatever their strategists tell them you want to hear.
But most of all they will talk about the future. They will make campaign promises about what they will do for you if they win and how they will make your life better.
They will also pledge who they will sit with and not sit with in a prospective coalition.
Those are the promises that you should believe the least.
Let’s recap the disqualifications so far: Meretz will not join a coalition with Likud, Bayit Yehudi, or Yisrael Beytenu.
Avigdor Liberman, leader of Yisrael Beytenu, has ruled out a coalition with parties that would negotiate with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas or parties that would insist on repealing haredi draft legislation, which means no to Shas, United Torah Judaism, Labor, Meretz, and Arab parties.
No Arab party is willing to join any coalition at all, not even Hadash, according to Mohammed Barakei, who stepped down as party leader Saturday.
Yesh Atid is careful not to rule out any party, but says it will not join a coalition in which anything happens that haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties would want. Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett says he will sit in a coalition with Labor or even Meretz, but not if the government would do what they would want.
Koolanu will only enter a coalition in which its leader, Moshe Kahlon, is finance minister.
The two largest parties, who both hope to form a government after the election, were more open-minded until this weekend. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor leader Isaac Herzog both said they did not want a government with the other but took pains not to rule it out.
The first crack came Wednesday morning when Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich, who took the party’s second slot in its primary last week, said she did not see her party in a coalition with Netanyahu, who she termed “very, very dangerous.” Then Hatnua head Tzipi Livni, who is ahead of her on their joint list, echoed her.
“Unity is not a technical matter of giving out portfolios; rather, it must be formed around a path,” Livni said Friday. “Netanyahu and Bennett’s way is one that is deteriorating Israel in every area.”
Netanyahu, whose party fell three seats behind Labor in a Jerusalem Post
/Ma’ariv Sof Hashavua poll published that morning, then cracked.
He had released a statement early Thursday sharply criticizing the list Labor elected, calling it extreme Leftist and anti-Zionist.
“There is a gaping chasm between the Likud, led by me, and Labor,” he said. But after Livni’s interview, he reissued the statement from the day before, adding a key line that made a huge difference: “We will not cooperate with them in one government.”
That statement contradicted Netanyahu’s promise when he called for the Knesset’s dispersal that he would form a wide government if victorious. A coalition with all the right-wing and haredi parties is unlikely to be a wide government, which he has defined as one that no party can bring down at any point.
It also contradicted Netanyahu’s history of ensuring there will be at least one Center-Left party in his government to help explain his actions around the world.
If not Labor, who? Not Yesh Atid. Shas and UTJ would refuse to sit with them.
A coalition without Labor has no chance of passing the electoral reform plan that Netanyahu has made the basis of his campaign: to move Israel closer to a two-party system.
Netanyahu said he initiated the election because the parties that ruled out other parties forced him to form a coalition he did not want.
With his statement on Friday, he is now mimicking their behavior that bothered him so much.
But after the election, it will be OK to listen to politicians again, to read and believe what they say. Chances are they will sound different, especially in the very likely scenario that President Reuven Rivlin calls for a national- unity government with Likud, Labor, and other parties sitting together, despite their promises.