In the movie The Princess Bride, Miracle Max, played by Billy Crystal, pronounces one of the protagonists not dead but “mostly dead.”
“There’s a big difference between all dead and mostly dead,” he says. “Mostly dead is slightly alive. All dead, well there’s only one thing you can do: go through his pockets and look for loose change.”
The same can be said about Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s governing coalition, which after the departure of defectors Idit Silman and Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi is on the way to political death but not quite there yet.
So how can the coalition still be saved and an election avoided?
The best way would be to flip-flop Rinawie Zoabi in one way or another. She wrote in her letter to Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid that she is leaving the coalition, not that she is joining the opposition.
She clearly expressed her discontent, but she did not say that she would cast the deciding vote to dissolve the Knesset, initiate an election and lose her job.
The second way is to keep a minority government going for as long as possible, at least until the next Knesset recess begins on July 27.
Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said that even a handicapped government is better than a caretaker government that reigns between the Knesset’s dissolution and the formation of a new coalition. The former can accomplish almost nothing; the latter nothing at all.
Just like mostly dead is better than dead, doing almost nothing is better than nothing.
Dr. Assaf Shapira, director of the political reform program at the Israel Democracy Institute, examined the three instances in which a minority government of 59 MKs served in Israel.
The 24th government, led by prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, was formed after the “stinking maneuver” in June 1990, when Shimon Peres attempted and failed to form an alternate government with the haredi Orthodox parties. The coalition factions initially included 59 MKs, with the outside support of two MKs from the Moledet party. But that July, MK Ephraim Gur joined the coalition, and then in November, Agudat Israel joined, and the government once again held a majority in the Knesset.
The 25th government, led by prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, was established with the support of 62 MKs. After Shas quit the coalition in the summer of 1993, it became a minority government of 56 MKs, with the support of five MKs from the factions representing Arab parties. In January 1995, three MKs from the Yi’ud faction, which had split from the right-wing Tzomet Party, joined the coalition. At that time, the government became a minority government of 59, with outside support from the Arab factions.
The 30th government, prime minister Ariel Sharon’s second, became over a period of time a minority government of 59 MKs. This occurred after the right-wing factions quit the coalition due to the Gaza Disengagement plan, and when the Shinui party quit due to matters of religion and state. At that point the coalition consisted of 19 MKs from the Likud and 19 from the Labor-Meimad party.
This was the reality from January 2005 until March 2005, when Degel HaTorah and Agudat Yisrael joined the coalition.
The final way to keep the current government going and avoid an election is to seek a counter-defector from the opposition to the coalition. It is not likely, but it cannot be ruled out.
Bennett has no Miracle Max to give him a magic pill, but he cannot be politically eulogized just yet.