Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (L) at the scene of a truck-ramming attack in Jerusalem, January 8, 2017.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Sometimes coalitions die with a bang. Sometimes they die with a whimper.
This coalition is on its way to whimpering itself to death.
The way things look now, it’s not a big crisis that will kill it.
It’ll be a slow death in which the parties chip away, bit by bit, at their ability to work together, while grandstanding in preparation for the next election campaign.
The hallways of the legislature were chaotic Monday night, with people in the coalition running around trying to make deals to get a majority on the bill to allow Interior Minister Arye Deri stop more stores from opening on Saturdays, a bill that is do-or-die for the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Yisrael Beytenu decided to vote against the bill. Then, more and more MKs came out against the bill - Likud MK Sharren Haskel said she couldn’t stomach voting for it, and MK Yehudah Glick, also of Likud, used the opportunity to try to extort support for a ban on smoking cigarettes before age 21. Kulanu lawmaker Tali Ploskov got Kahlon’s okay to skip the vote and Rachel Azaria of the same party was considering her options.
A rumor ran through the Knesset that Deri was going to resign if the bill doesn’t pass.
The vote-whipping was even more frantic because coalition chairman David Bitan was absent. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-hand man, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, was doing much of Bitan’s usual job.
But the main reason was, really, that the coalition parties wouldn’t hear each other out.
Liberman is being stubborn as part of an “election campaign,” UTJ leader Ya’acov Litzman told reporters in one of the Knesset’s hallways. One can easily point to Liberman’s digging up a week-old video of Deri saying Russian-speaking immigrants buy pork on Shabbat as an attention-getting pre-election trick, as well.
And the Haredi parties’ insistence on passing their bill right away when Yisrael Beytenu has issues with it is not exactly fair play, either.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Naftali Bennett is going around talking about how he wants to be prime minister when he grows up and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party is putting up billboards touting its tax cuts on baby products and raise in IDF soldiers’ salaries – behavior that looks more like the end of a term than the middle.
Over the weekend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked coalition leaders to stop the election talk. He and every other party leader in the coalition have said they don’t want an election now – Liberman and Bennett both said so at their faction meetings Monday.
Bennett even pleaded with his coalition partners to stop making threats and learn that part of being in a coalition is compromising and accepting things you may not like.
The reluctance to bring about an election now makes sense. All of the coalition parties are likely to suffer from one. This is as right-wing a government as Israel has had since the Oslo Accords, and no right-wing party wants to be blamed for breaking it up. The Haredim have never had it so good in any government. Reports indicate that the police will wrap up Netanyahu’s investigation soon, and going to an election with corruption talk in the background won’t be good for him.
Kulanu isn’t polling so well, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon needs a big victory to show off to the voting public. And Yisrael Beytenu is hovering just above the electoral threshold.
And yet, the Knesset feels like it’s on the precipice of an election.
As of press time, it was unclear whether there would be a majority to support the “mini-markets bill” or not, but it almost doesn’t matter.
Coalitions that are thrown into turmoil because they’re unable to make compromises and work together toward shared goals don’t last long.
So, if the party leaders really don’t want an election, they need to start acting like it, or they’ll find themselves on the campaign trail soon.