Bibi has finished the four weeks provided by the President to create a government, and has received the two week extension allowed by law to the President''s discretion.
Prospects are not good, with the two contentious camps of the Haredim and anti-Haredim cursing and threatening one another.
Bibi says that he wants both under his tent. It appears that he prefers the Haredim, for the good reason of their experience together and perhaps for his affinity to yiddishkeit as well as their accommodation to his posture on the Palestinians.
The issues are complex.
The Haredim''s current life style imposes significant costs on the economy, and their contributions are meager and even negative. Their claim to be the principal defense of Israel by studying God''s law has no place in a policy discussion of the 21st century. European rabbis made the same argument 70 years ago, and God did not respond as they expected. Their communities did not flee, but stayed where they were, relied on their rabbis and God, and lost more to the Holocaust, proportionally, than Orthodox and secular Jews.
The claim that the Haredi focus on religious texts and their pious life style are the prime guarantees of Judaism''s continuity is also vacuous. The Orthodox do as well in terms of learning the written and Oral Torah, and keeping alive the traditions, while they educate their children in a range of secular subjects, send them to the most demanding units of the security forces, and prepare them for a life of work.
Army service is important to many Israelis as a way of demonstrating one''s contribution to a difficult and important national mission. No less important in the discussion of the Haredim is insisting that their young people learn languages, mathematics, natural and social science, history and other humanities that will contribute to themselves and the society.
No prominent Israeli wants to destroy the religious academies. However, they can continue in about the same way as the Faculties of Humanities at secular universities. A few students will want to devote themselves to a life of Torah study, just as a few students pursue academic careers in literature, history, and the secular study of religious material. Nothing in any of these clusters "pays well" in the modern economy, but they attract and satisfy brilliant individuals who contribute to a society that values--like other well educated western democracies--intellectual pursuits that do not produce great profits in dollars, euro, or shekels.
The principal argument against the Haredim does not concern their education of the truly brilliant, but financial support to a large number of average and less than average students who do nothing more productive than make large numbers of children destined to be equally costly.
In favor of Bibi''s efforts to include the Haredim as well as the anti-Haredim under his tent are two prominent considerations.
One is the folly of demanding an immediate and total change in the behavior of perhaps 15 percent of the Jewish population, whose representatives in the Knesset amount to the same proportion of the parliament, have played--and are likely to play--key roles in the formation of future governments. Much of the Haredi population is beyond the age where change is feasible. The prospect of passive and active rebellion is sufficient to justify a phased program of demanding change in the financial outlays going to the Haredi community, and how its young people are prepared to make similar contributions to society as other Israelis.
The failure of Shaul Mofaz to use the pressure of Kadima''s votes for the same purposes in the previous government do not encourage a simple reliance on Netanyahu and the Haredim to accept meaningful reforms. Lapid and Benet are justified in demanding hard choices for the present and prospective prime minister, and perhaps demanding that he create a government with them and without the Haredim. If push comes to shove and Bibi fails to solve his problems in the next two weeks, polls suggest that a new election may make Lapid the prime minister and Bibi the leader of the opposition.
Yet another consideration on Bibi''s side concerns the reliability of Lapid and Benet, and the large number of new parliamentarians who came to office on their coattails. Neither of the new party leaders has anything like Netanyahu''s governmental experience. The public is justified in wondering if both have done well on the basis of platitudes that play better in the media and political meetings than in the closed rooms where the details of policy and implementation must be hammered out. Yair Lapid''s father, Tomy, went down the slippery slope of leading a party that expanded to include parliamentarians who embarrassed it and brought it down. Yair has nothing like his father''s education, or his political and governmental experience, and his party grew from nothing to be greater than anything Tomy accomplished before his demise at the hands of colleagues.
Benet''s party has the advantage of being anchored in the institutions of Orthodox synagogues and religious academies. However, it is a contentious community, and prominent figures within it view Benet as new, marginal to Orthodox Judaism, and worthy of bringing down.
Bibi is justified in fearing that a government resting on Lapid and Benet will crumble under him.
The issue of Israel-Palestine is playing virtually no role in this political morass. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians are capable of doing what international and Israeli leftists dream of as the way to "peace." Both Israelis and Palestinians have accommodated themselves to a cumbersome and anomalous situation. All are coping. Israelis are better at it than Palestinians, as measured by the rubble in Gaza and the living standards here and there. Politicians'' expressions directed at their own people and outsiders are little more than repetitive rhetoric exercises aimed at justifying what are well established as their postures. If leaders of the American and European governments think that they know the key to a Middle Eastern nirvana, pity their innocence.