Analysis: Netanyahu has chance for do-over

PM knows he needs to succeed in building a strong, stable government, because US president Barack Obama is coming to Israel just four days after the deadline for forming a coalition.

March 1, 2013 00:35
2 minute read.
Prime Minister Netanyahu addresses Jewish Agency Board of Governors, Feb 18

Netanyahu 370. (photo credit: Koby Gideon/GPO)


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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will arrive at President Shimon Peres’s residence Saturday night after four weeks that he undoubtedly wishes he could take back.

The coalition that could have been completed in the four weeks Netanyahu was given to form a government did not bear fruit. The deal he reached with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua Party only made it harder to craft agreements with inevitable coalition partners Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi.

Netanyahu no doubt blames his failure to form a government on Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett – the two princes who dared to challenge the man Time Magazine called “King Bibi.” They formed what – in his view – is an unholy alliance between parties with opposing views on the Palestinian issue, and he fears that they will make his term a headache by each twisting one of his arms.

Together, Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi have 31 seats, the same number as Likud Beytenu, and their legislators are much more cohesive and controllable than Netanyahu’s faction, which is full of potential rebels.

But Netanyahu need not have looked at either Lapid or Bennett as a threat. Had he invited them to serious, ideological negotiations four weeks ago, not only would they not have needed to form their bond, the two parties would not have hardened their stances and they would not have been as difficult to deal with.

Political newbies Lapid and Bennett both want to get ministerial experience in a four-year term that would enable them to build a record of real results. They have their ambitions, but he need not have assumed that they would be impatient to bring him down.

Bayit Yehudi officials felt that Netanyahu treated them like an unwanted nuisance during the first three weeks of coalition talks.

Netanyahu could have avoided pushing Bennett into the bond with Lapid.

Had their alliance not been formed, it is possible Netanyahu could have succeeded in building a coalition with both Shas and Yesh Atid, which would not have had the leverage to insist on keeping out the haredi parties that the deal with Bennett gave Lapid.

Bayit Yehudi, which in the past was eager to achieve compromises between the secular and haredi sectors, sided with the secular against the haredim due to the deal with Lapid and frustrations with years of haredi discrimination against religious Zionists.

Now Netanyahu has no choice but to form the government that Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi want, which will not have haredi parties.

That coalition could be stable and could enable important changes in Israeli society that will help Netanyahu in the long run.

There are few opportunities in Israeli politics for what is known in local academic circles as a “mo’ed bet,” a do-over quiz. That is what these next two weeks can be for Netanyahu.

He knows he needs to succeed in building a strong, stable government, because US president Barack Obama is coming to Israel just four days after the deadline for forming a coalition.

With the arrival of Obama, who, unlike Netanyahu, was strengthened by his reelection, the real tests will begin for the prime minister.

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