'Unity coalition eases situation for Netanyahu'

Hebrew University’s Diskin says move could help pass far-reaching legislation but might just be survival tactic.

Netanyahu and Mofaz 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Netanyahu and Mofaz 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s deal to bring the Kadima party into the government and form the largest ruling coalition in the state’s history could ease his efforts to bring far-reaching legislative and diplomatic changes, or could just be part of a survival tactic both for the Likud and Kadima.
According to Prof. Abraham Diskin of the political science department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, forming a national unity government will significantly ease the passage of any legislative proposal Netanyahu pursues, in particular a compromise on haredi (ultra-Orthodox) service in the IDF.
“It definitely makes it much easier, because now either [haredi party] Shas goes along with some type of reasonable compromise or he [Netanyahu] will have a majority to impose something more restricting on those who get exemptions [from IDF service],” the professor said.
Diskin said that beyond the issue of haredi military service, the deal will help the prime minister “on all fronts: war and peace, Israel and the Palestinians, Israel and Iran, the budget... all state and religion issues, whichever way you look at it, the situation looks more convenient for Netanyahu.”
Today, the government faces the challenge of enlisting haredim in the IDF or national service. The first national unity government was formed by David Ben-Gurion in December 1952, after his Mapai party clashed with its haredi coalition partners. Ben-Gurion brought in the General Zionists party and removed the haredi parties. That government was relatively short-lived, and was dissolved in December 1953 when Ben- Gurion resigned from the government.
Prof. Guy Ben-Porat, from the public policy and administration department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said the current deal is little more than a tactical move by Netanyahu and Kadima, and not part of any broad strategy.
Ben-Porat said Netanyahu can now avoid elections and Mofaz can now keep whatever power Kadima had left, and that Israelis should not expect its largest-ever government to make any sweeping legislative changes.
“If he thinks toward the next election in his own [Likud] party, which has very strong right-wing tendencies in it, I don’t think he’ll make any strong moves [toward the Palestinians]. My gut feeling is this will be a large government that will survive as long as possible by doing as little as possible.”
He added that “he [Netanyahu] is limited because he has parties in his coalition from the Center and Center- Left, and the right wing. On one hand the large size of the government is enabling, but on the other hand its limiting.
“This whole large coalition is based on doing as little as possible. It is a grand coalition based on disagreements that are muted through not making any great changes. We’ve had these governments in the past,” Ben- Porat added.
He also said he doesn’t think the deal was made to shore up Netanyahu’s power base ahead of a potential strike on Iran, in that “if you think about military action you can do it even with a small coalition. Once you call up the troops, everybody lines up. You don’t need a big coalition for that.”
Like today, when Israel faces the specter of a war with Iran and the national crisis that could ensue as a result, on the eve of the Six Day War in 1967, then-prime minister Levi Eshkol of Labor predecessor the Alignment brought the right-wing Gahal party into the government along with Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan’s splinter Rafi party, which allowed Eshkol to answer the public desire to see Dayan appointed defense minister. The move also brought Menachem Begin (of Herut and Gahal) into the government for the first time, affording him greater legitimacy with the Israeli public.
The 15th government was also a national unity government, led by prime minister Golda Meir. The Gahal party pulled out of that coalition following the signing of the Rogers Plan, a series of agreements to end hostilities between Egypt and Israel during the 1967-1970 War of Attrition.
Former defense minister Moshe Arens (Likud) said the move has the most obvious benefit of avoiding general elections.
Arens noted how the national unity government was formed in 1988 because neither the Right nor the Left could form a government on its own; the current situation involves a stable government looking to expand its power base.
“I never understood why Netanyahu decided to go to elections in the first place, to this day I don’t really understand why, but I guess he wasn’t crazy about the idea either.”
The government formed in 1988, after both the Alignment and the Likud won 40 seats, and neither could form a coalition on its own, was the last Israeli government to run its full four years.
In terms of what the government can now achieve, Arens said having such a massive coalition will mean that it can advance “anything that is within the framework of the consensus that he can reach with Kadima.”
When asked if the move could be intended to shore up support for a potential strike on Iran, he was dismissive, saying only, “I think it has no connection to that.”