How is Netanyahu faring 100 days into his coalition?

In the previous government, the prime minister could afford to rest on his laurels, because it worked like clockwork. But this coalition is not the one Netanyahu wanted, and many more challenges lie ahead.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
June 29, 2013 12:00
BINYAMIN NETANYAHU strides the corridors of the Knesset this week.

Netanyahu leaving Knesset 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

 
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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu marked the 100-day anniversary of the swearing-in of his government on Wednesday afternoon by visiting the border with Syria.

No one wished him mazal tov, and there was no cake.

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There was no time to celebrate, because there was very serious work to be done.

In the previous government, Netanyahu could afford to rest on his laurels, because it worked like clockwork. The parties in the relatively cohesive coalition got along. There were no serious alternative candidates for prime minister.

And the only vote lost in the coalition happened after midnight, in a vote most MKs did not realize was taking place. It was repealed the following week.

This coalition is not the one Netanyahu wanted.

Instead of the haredim, whom he finds easy to work with, he must face Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.



Instead of Ehud Barak, his IDF commander who he respects, Netanyahu must deal with Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, his former chief of staff whom he and his wife, Sara, cannot stand.

There were good days for Netanyahu among his first 100. US President Barack Obama’s visit went well. He helped pass reforms that will open up the skies to more competition. Natural gas is flowing, and soon the taxes on it will flow as well.

But the overwhelming majority of the 100 were unpleasant for the prime minister. A candidate seen by the world as a relative moderate won the election in Iran, making the regime there seem less evil to the international community. Netanyahu is facing dirty political battles inside Likud that he thought were beneath him and could be avoided indefinitely.

And the unforgiving media focused on his hedonism, his travel costs, the expanding expenses of his residence and his penchant for gourmet ice cream – especially pistachio.

Many more challenges lie head for Netanyahu’s government. While the next election could be advanced at any point, it is officially set for November 7, 2017, the third Tuesday in Heshvan in the civil calendar year that is four years after the last general election.

That means that after 102 days in this term so far, Netanyahu could have another 1,592 until the next election, plus another month or so until he or someone else forms the next government. The following are seven key obstacles that could ensure that the next election comes much sooner: Socioeconomic: It is hard to remember, but the last government ended because Netanyahu decided last fall that it would be too difficult to pass the state budget. Several months later, it still remains unpassed.

The budget’s passage must be completed by the time the Knesset’s lengthy summer recess begins July 31.

Between now and then, there will be many battles inside the coalition about which cutbacks to restore.

The main problem will be inside Likud Beytenu, where MKs like Gila Gamliel and Orly Levy-Abecassis have decided to rebel by voting against key clauses in the budget that would harm the weakest sectors of the population.

But all eyes will be on the back bench in Yesh Atid to see whether Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich’s refusal to have opposition legislators pair off, results in handicapped MK Karin Elharar coming to the Knesset in her wheelchair to vote for her party chairman’s budget, despite being on maternity leave.

Religion and State: Kadima left the last government because its leader Shaul Mofaz thought Netanyahu was not being tough enough on drafting yeshiva students.

Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri, whose Yesh Atid party took most of Kadima’s votes, drafted the government’s plans for expanding haredi service and employment.

The plan must be passed by the Knesset in its first reading by the end of July, but it still has a long path to travel before it becomes law. Between now and then, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Bayit Yehudi MKs will try to tone down the proposal and make it less anti-haredi.

The good news for Netanyahu is that the bill’s implementation – and the inevitable massive haredi rallies – will only be after this government completes its term.

Much sooner than that, there will be battles in the coalition about the identity of the next chief rabbis. Most of the MKs in the coalition support Rabbi David Stav for Ashkenazi chief rabbi, but Netanyahu and much of the voting body prefers Rabbi David Lau.

Electoral Reforms: The two parties pushing for electoral reform, Yisrael Beytenu and Yesh Atid, agree on how to limit the number of ministers, but disagree on how to limit excessive, time-consuming no-confidence motions.

None of the parties in the coalition are seriously pushing proposals to start electing a portion of the Knesset via direct, regional elections.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman wants electoral reforms to pass as soon as possible. The proposals will be shepherded by his close ally, Knesset Law Committee chairman David Rotem.

Legal: Liberman’s political future is in the hands of the legal establishment, as it has been for more than 15 years. Final arguments in his case will be made in July.

The earliest potential end of the legal saga is in August, in the unlikely event that the ruling on his case will be released during the month in which courts are usually on recess. October, after the September holidays, is more likely.

If acquitted, Liberman could then legally be appointed foreign minister. But it is feasible that the appointment would be delayed until after appeals, which could take another year. If convicted, the appeals will likely take even longer.

Until then, the Foreign Ministry will remain weak, without a minister to prevents its responsibilities from being divvied up among other ministries seeking its glory.

Parliamentary: The most embarrassing moment for the coalition came when it failed to pass Rotem’s candidacy for a spot on the committee that chooses the country’s judges. Instead, the Knesset chose two opposition MKs in a secret-ballot vote.

While the coalition has technically not lost a vote on a bill, coalition chairman Yariv Levin has pulled bills at the last minute when he realized he did not have a majority in the room when the time came to vote.

Coalition MKs have acted in a much less disciplined manner than in the previous Knesset.

Likud MKs in general have been especially problematic, most notably former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, who is angry about being deposed, and MK Moshe Feiglin, who is upset that he is not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount.

Upcoming key votes besides the budget and haredi enlistment include how to legally prosecute so-called “price tag” perpetrators, whether to outlaw imports of foie gras and an ethics committee decision on how to punish Arab MKs who ripped up a bill on Beduin land claims in the plenum.

Political: The true strength of the coalition is that the men who built it – Lapid and Bennett – are both in posts in which they need time to prove themselves. That is why both told The Washington Post last weekend that they want the government to last.

Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, who Netanyahu sees as a gadfly, is expected to win an easy race for Likud central committee chairman on Sunday. Danon can use that post to block Netanyahu’s efforts on the diplomatic front and his plans to formally merge with Yisrael Beytenu.

Netanyahu needs to prove that he is still strong in the party, or the battle to succeed him, which has already begun, will start to heat up. The political infighting among the ministers who see themselves as Netanyahu’s successors will make it tougher to govern.

There are also municipal races on October 22 that will be a bellwether for the strength of Likud.

Diplomatic: The world’s focus in on this issue, but in Netanyahu’s coalition, it is actually the least serious problem. Sure, there are plenty of divisions between Justice Minister Tzipi Livni on the Left and Bennett on the Right.

But Bennett said he would not quit the coalition over the start of diplomatic talks that he is convinced are doomed to failure. And Livni is determined that once peace talks start, their content be discreet to enable them to succeed.

If the talks do not get off the ground at all, Livni cannot blame Netanyahu, who has given her his full support. She might have to blame the Palestinians, especially if the Americans do as well.

There is no issue on which the government is more united than Iran. All the coalition parties want Iran’s nuclearization to be prevented by non-military means, but want the IDF to prepare in case the Israeli military option becomes the only option.

History has proven that there is no better way to unite all Israelis in general and warring politicians in particular than with a serious security confrontation. But that is the last thing Netanyahu wants to see in the hundreds of days ahead.


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