Get it together

A month into coalition negotiations, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud have yet to sign even one agreement.

Benjamin Netanyahu  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A month into coalition negotiations, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud have yet to sign even one agreement.
While it’s not unusual that the prime minister received a two-week extension from President Reuven Rivlin, the total lack of palpable progress is unprecedented in the country’s history.
The situation was predictable once votes were counted and the makeup of the Knesset became clear. Netanyahu needs all the right-wing factions in the legislature to have any coalition.
This means that despite being dwarfed by Likud’s 35 seats, the potential coalition partners feel like they can squeeze Netanyahu for the maximum in coalition negotiations, whether in cabinet portfolios, budgetary expenditures or policy positions.
At the end of the first month of talks, this has brought proceedings to a total impasse.
Every potential coalition partner has found a hill to die on. Kulanu wants to be the last to sign so that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon can see whether taxes have to be raised to keep up with the other parties’ demands before deciding whether to keep his current job.
Union of Right-Wing Parties (URP) MK Bezalel Smotrich, who’s leading his party’s negotiating team, will not budge from his demand to be justice minister.
Yisrael Beytenu and the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties Shas and United Torah Judaism are entangled in an ongoing spat over haredi enlistment – which the Likud has yet to mediate away, with Yisrael Beytenu refusing to accept a change of “even one comma” from the enlistment bill that passed a first reading last year, and UTJ demanding a long list of changes.
Meanwhile, the parties’ demands along with Netanyahu’s need to satisfy the top lawmakers in his own party have led him to extract a commitment from all of his likely partners to vote next week in favor of striking from the law the limit on the number of ministers.
Much has been said about the increase in ministers costing tens of millions of shekels from the public’s coffers.
While that’s true, it’s pennies compared to some of the demands in coalition negotiations. Yisrael Beytenu wants all pensions to be increased to at least 70% of minimum wage. URP, Shas and UTJ are looking for more money toward housing and yeshivas for the sectors they represent.
And all this is happening while there is a yawning gap between Israel’s fiscal deficit, which reached 3.5% of GDP in February, compared to the government’s target of 2.9%. Deficit projections for the end of 2019 are as high as 4% of GDP. If the government wants to shrink the deficit, it should be cutting, not increasing costs.
With the final deadline for forming a government fast approaching on May 29, all of the negotiating parties need to take a step back and think about the good of the country.
The factions need to prioritize and not expect to walk out with all of their boxes checked, because there are going to be other parties at the cabinet table.
That’s how negotiations work; the Hebrew term for negotiations, masa u’matan, translates literally to “taking and giving.”
Some likely coalition MKs have said that they’re prepared for repeat elections, and that they’ll do even better if that happens. They shouldn’t be so confident. As it says in the Talmud, since the Temple was destroyed, prophecy is only given to fools and infants.
The government has been in limbo, unable to make any major decisions for almost half a year. A repeat election would extend that to almost a year.
We can joke that we’re better off with our politicians doing less, but in all seriousness, that is not a beneficial situation for national security or for the economy.
And that’s in addition to the election itself costing the government about NIS 700 million – and a loss of about NIS 5 billion to the market on Election Day.
The negotiating parties need to get it together and form a coalition already. The public chose Netanyahu as its next prime minister. It is time that the parties realize that and sit down to form a government.

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