Election tickets for the 39 parties who ran in the 2019 Israeli elections with the envelope voters must insert their ballot into, April 9, 2019.
(photo credit: BEN BRESKY)
We’re only two days before the ostensible deadline for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form his next government, and there does not seem to be an end in sight to the coalition talks.
The same problems we listed in this space two weeks ago, right before Netanyahu asked President Reuven Rivlin for an extension, still stand.
Yisrael Beytenu and the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) are entangled in an ongoing disagreement over haredi enlistment – including mutual recriminations – that the Likud has yet to mediate away. Yisrael Beytenu refuses to accept a change of “even one comma” in the enlistment bill that passed in a first reading last year, and UTJ has demanded a long list of changes.
Meanwhile, other parties have demands of their own – of budgetary expenses, portfolios and policies – and not one potential coalition partner has signed an agreement with the Likud.
This brings us to an unprecedented situation for the person appointed to form a government – in this case, Netanyahu – to have made no tangible progress so close to the deadline.
It’s true that there are legal loopholes that would give Netanyahu more time, but they have never been tested in the past, and the Likud spent much of Sunday threatening to call an early election and announcing moves that indicated it was preparing for one.
Hopefully, these threats are tactical, aimed at pressuring potential coalition partners to be more flexible and finally compromise.
Going to another election is the last thing Israel needs.
Let’s start with the cost: Election Day is a day off in Israel, leading to a loss of NIS 5 billion to the market, in addition to about NIS 700 million in government expenditure to hold the election. This would come in a time of an increasing budgetary deficit – and there would be no government to try to fix it.
And the budget isn’t the only part of Israel that would be stuck because of an early election. The entire government would essentially be frozen for almost a full year. The last election was called in early December and made official at the end of the month. Now, we’re almost in June. Another election would take 100 days, bringing us to mid-September, and another approximately seven weeks would pass before the deadline expires for whoever is tasked by the president with forming the new government.
The major decisions that need to be made – whether about national security, the peace plan set to be rolled out in a few weeks by the Trump administration, or any other issue – would continue to be undertaken by an interim government with limited power, and without a functioning Knesset to discuss the issues and pass laws.
This is not a tenable situation.
Politically, it is not a wise idea for the Right to test the electorate. While right-wing parties did receive a solid majority of the vote – especially if one counts those that did not make it over the threshold – the electorate may be angry and will certainly be fatigued. Turnout will likely be low, and the voters that do show up could punish the parties that are perceived as causing this upheaval. No one really knows going into an election season how it will end, so none of the parties should be so confident about it.
Likud, Shas, UTJ, Yisrael Beytenu, Union of Right-wing Parties and Kulanu need to get their acts together. If need be, they shouldn’t sleep until Wednesday to make sure they can come to some kind of agreement and form a governing coalition. Or, if the unlikely scenario of a unity government between Likud and Blue and White becomes possible, then that option should be explored as well.
The country voted for a new Knesset – expecting its members to lead our country, not get bogged down in political squabbles and kick the can down the road. The time for a functioning coalition is now.
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