There is an old rule of politics, which you can find in one or another textbook, that a ruling party or a coalition that is too big is bad.
Small is better, insofar as its members are afraid of losing the whole game if they wander off the reservation. When a ruling party, or a cluster of parties that rule as a coalition, is too much greater than a simple majority, its individuals feel free to express themselves, test the limits, and may begin acting in ways that develops into a rebellion and crumbles the collective castle.
We may be seeing the beginning of that in Bibi Netanyahu''s Promised Land of a coalition put together only a month ago with parties totalling 94 out of 120 Knesset Members.
Indestructible? Or a disaster waiting to happen?
The natives are restless.
Several clusters are threatening to bolt in order to achieve their desires, or to protect them from others in the coalition.
First up is the revision of ultra-Orthodox men''s exemption from the military draft. Advocates aspire to use the opportunity to remake Israeli society. Ideas deal not only with ending the blanket exemption from the draft, but extending the idea of military service or a period of enforced social service to Arabs as well as the ultra-Orthodox, along with several proposed ways of getting the ultra-Orthodox out of lifetime study and turning them into workers and taxpayers.
So far the ultra-Orthodox parties, committed to the God-mandated priority of Torah study, have refused to attend the meetings of the government committee appointed to deal with this.
Torah Judaism and SHAS represent 16 out of 94 MK''s in the coalition. Members of the secular parties are casual about letting them go, but their rebellion is only the start of things.
Also up is a cluster of unknown size, from the right wing of Likud and other coalition partners inclined to legislation that will evade the Supreme Court''s ruling about the removal of a neighborhood in the settlement of Beit El that is built on land owned by Palestinians. The Prime Minister has opposed legislation his colleagues are threatening to introduce, due to legal advice, his commitment to the "rule of law," (i.e., following the dictates of the Supreme Court), and a concern for international repurcussions (i.e., there may be only so much the Obama administration will tolerate concerning Israeli settlement policy).
The Prime Minister has proposed something akin to the Supertanker he ordered at great expense and limited usefullness to fight a forest fire. He would move the objectionable houses to another area of Beit El. Engineers are mocking the expense and the practicality of the idea, given the distance, the terrain, and the size of the structures.
It is not clear how many Knesset Members are inclined to violate the Prime Minister''s leadership on this issue, but it is more than in the case of the 16 restive ultra-Orthodox. The pro-
settlement rebels might be numerous enough to move forward a proposal that will at the least embarrass the Prime Minister, and might actually raise the possibility of a split in his grand coalition.
Also in the air is a restive element--overlapping with the two groupings concerned with the ultra-Orthodox and settlements--anxious to do something about illegal immigrants from Africa. Their concentration in a poor neighborhood of Tel Aviv is a social and political tinder that excites politicians looking for a mission. It reminds me of poor Southern whites and the Democrats who served them during my youth and early career.
Among the ideas:
- shoot the illegal immigrants at the border,
- dump them back into Egypt and let the Egyptians shoot them,
- build more prisons and get them out of Tel Aviv,
- ask the United Nations to find a solution,
- distribute them to rich neighborhoods and see how the well-healed leftists would deal with them,
- speed up the construction of the barrier along the Egyptian border,
- if the Beduin guides respond to the barrier by expanding the route they have already pioneered--across the Gulf of Aqaba to Jordan and then over the Israel-Jordanian border--Israel should shoot them at that border, expect the Jordanians to shoot them,.or think about another barrier along the long border with Jordan south of the Dead Sea.
Eli Yishai, the Minister of Interior, has claimed responsibility for the problem, and has opened discussions with the Ambassador from Eritrea about sending home the large group of Eritreans. This Minister is the parliamentary leader of SHAS. Not only does he have a considerable number of voters among the low-income Sephardis in South Tel Aviv, but the issue might add to his points gained from battling what he and his colleagues view as the anti-Semitic campaign to force his ultra-Orthodox voters out of their academies and into the IDF, social service, or the workforce.
Whatever Yishai''s motives, the Foreign Ministry is rebelling against the idea of the Interior Ministry meddling in its field of expertise and responsibility.
Foreign Ministry personnel are well aware that Eritrea and a number of other African countries do not want the return of people they have managed to push out of their surplus populations. Most potential African homelands have already turned down financial offers to help with the problem. Moreover, Israel has signed onto international agreements that tie its hands with respect to force repatriation.
The 60,000 illegal Africans are more prominent and more problematic than what has been said to be something on the order of 200,000 other illegal immigrants from the Balkans and Asia. They are mostly workers who came to Israel on permits to work in agricultural, construction, or the care of the elderly and other handicapped, and have overstayed their permits. They are less problematic than the Africans because they are more widely distributed throughout the country, and have skills that are in demand.
The prominence of all those Africans, growing daily by new arrivals, may be the most pressing of the country''s problems, kept in the headlines by stories of violence and other crimes attributed to the Africans, anti-African violence attributed to fearful or fed-up Israelis, and the worry about more serious violence that will disturb Israeli morality and give the country a bad press internationally.
Not yet a serious threat, but somewhere out there, is a renewal of last summer''s social protests.
Note the plural in "protests." Last year''s protesters seemed to get nowhere, despite demonstrations that may have reached 400,000 at their peak. There was too great a variety of demands being expressed by different clusters of protesters, and no unity or discipline among the contenders for protest leadership.
Last weekend saw the onset of protest season, but the effort was piddling and the multiplicity of goals no less than last year. Estimates range between 3,000 and 5,000 marching in Tel Aviv.
Vulnerable to whatever develops on the streets are coalition partners Kadima (28 MK''s) and Independence (the split off from Labor with five MK''s). It is among those parties'' MKs where one hears about support for the middle class and others claiming to suffer from one or another social or economic disadvantage. The populist voices from Likud in behalf of its poor voters in South Tel Aviv and populists in Israel our Home may add to this segment of Knesset troublemakers disturbing the sleep of the Prime Minister.
It is too early to say Kadish for the coalition, or to prepare the shrouds and shovels.
But it is not too early to exercise my fingers in order to write about the possibilities.