Analysis: Can the coalition keep its Jenga tower from collapsing?

Coalition leaders committed to supporting bills on electoral reform, haredi conscription and the referendum bill. The question is whether their commitments are worth the paper on which they're written.

The 33rd government take first picture together 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The 33rd government take first picture together 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The coming week in the Knesset is a lot like the classic game Jenga.
Block is stacked upon block, arranged just so in a tower that looks stable, but could come tumbling down at the slightest movement.
The document being passed around to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett seems to be a sort of “Jenga insurance.”
Each party leader committed to keeping his or her blocks in line, so the tower can stand tall and stable when electoral reform, haredi conscription and the referendum bills go to a vote this week.
The real question, however, is whether the party leaders’ commitments are worth the paper on which they’re written. After all, not all 68 coalition lawmakers signed the document, and each party has its own internal politics and discipline – or lack thereof – to deal with, meaning that there are a lot of shaky blocks.
Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu can, in all likelihood, be trusted to follow through. Both have strong, centralized leadership with soldiers that are loath to disappoint their commander, lest he remember their transgressions when he (or a mysterious committee) forms the party’s list ahead of the next election.
The one MK who rebelled in Yesh Atid so far, Adi Kol on an early electoral reform vote, was punished swiftly and decisively.
Those three parties also happen to be the ones that oppose the referendum bill, which does not actually change anything in the practical sense – as a law requiring a national referendum on sovereign land concessions already passed in the last Knesset – but it would make the referendum requirement a Basic Law, which means it would have constitutional status in the eyes of the Supreme Court.
The coalition should be able to find votes for the referendum bill easily – if the Jenga tower doesn’t collapse before then.
The two bills that come before it – electoral reform and haredi conscription – could face some problems with the other two parties in the coalition – Likud and Bayit Yehudi.
Tekuma, a party that used to be part of the National Union, has four MKs in the Bayit Yehudi faction.
MK Orit Struck, a Tekuma member, had two official objections to electoral reform as of Sunday afternoon. If the electoral threshold is raised to 3.25 percent, her party’s chances of being able to run alone are much lower.
Will Tekuma lawmakers vote for a bill that will force them to run in the Bayit Yehudi’s primary or disappear? Hatnua, which has six seats in the current Knesset and even fewer in the polls, could face a similar dilemma, though the party hasn’t voiced any objections lately. Along those lines, Knesset Education Committee chairman Amram Mitzna decided not to vote in favor of electoral reform.
The haredi conscription bill doesn’t seem to have a lot of fans in the Bayit Yehudi, even though faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked led the Knesset committee to prepare the legislation. The hesitations in the Bayit Yehudi go far beyond Tekuma, with several other MKs openly speaking out against criminal sanctions for those who do not enlist.
Even Shaked herself said the bill isn’t what she’d hoped it would be.
Several Likud MKs also feel uncomfortable with the idea of “making it a crime to learn Torah in Israel,” as Deputy Minister for Liaison with the Knesset Ofir Akunis put it last week. Netanyahu said in interviews this weekend that he would have preferred to not have criminal sanctions in the bill, but it could not be avoided – and what he meant by “could not be avoided” is that Yesh Atid insisted.
Still, while the Likud has a long history of infighting and rebellions, it doesn’t seem like many of them would choose this particular battle as the opportune time to go against their party. Even MK Reuven Rivlin said last week that he plans to vote with the coalition, though he doesn’t want to alienate the haredi lawmakers that could support him in the presidential race.
How Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, also a possible presidential candidate from Likud, will vote remains to be seen.
The coalition does have one more form of insurance against the shaky blocks in its Jenga tower: Scheduling.
The big bills are going up for a vote one after the other in a marathon three-day session and each party, except for Hatnua, has a major stake in at least one piece of legislation. If one party wavers on one bill – for example, Bayit Yehudi on haredi conscription – then that party’s pet bill – in this case, Basic Law: Referendum – won’t get the support of other parties.
This way, each party’s Jenga blocks are intertwined in the others, so if all goes as planned, the tower will still stand tall on Thursday morning, when all the votes have been cast.