Academics debate benefits of broad coalition [pg. 3]

As the negotiations between Kadima, Labor, and other potential coalition partners continue to evolve, academics who study conflict resolution are hard at work analyzing the moves of the players involved, expounding theories of coalition building and hedging their bets on the nature of the next government. Professor Gerald Steinberg, the director of Bar-Ilan University's Conflict Management and Negotiation program, said Kadima had two basic options. "One possibility is a minimum coalition, which would allow Kadima to have a maximum number of ministries and influence. The other approach is a maximum coalition, which would be much more stable but would reduce Kadima's influence," Steinberg said. A larger coalition, he said, would give Kadima greater legitimacy, particularly in the event of a withdrawal from most of the West Bank. "Kadima is a centrist party - in order to survive, it can't just be another form of Labor," Steinberg said. "If Kadima is going to have Labor as a primary partner, it is also important for them to have [Israel Beiteinu's Avigdor] Lieberman or the National Religious Party, and to create some sort of balance. This is also true in terms of economic policies, which makes for a very complicated set of negotiations." Steinberg said that while "right now Olmert is publicly talking about a larger coalition, it is certainly not at all clear what will be the outcome." He also said that while both the Rabin and Sharon governments furnished positive examples of broad coalitions, this was no guarantee of success. Professor Shmuel Sandler of Bar-Ilan University's Department of Political Studies is currently editing "Israel at the Polls," the latest in a series of post-election studies scheduled to appear in the Journal of Israel Affairs. It is also to be published in book form by the Routledge press. Like Steinberg, Sandler believes that a broad coalition will be formed. "Olmert has learned from Rabin's mistakes, and will insist on including both Labor and Lieberman in the coalition," he said. The increased involvement of lawyers in the coalition negotiations, Sandler said, was related in part to the growth of conflict resolution and negotiation as a legal sub-speciality. "Signing coalition agreements requires you to be careful about the details, and lawyers tend to be more careful than politicians," he said. "They also have other skills that politicians usually don't have - like patience and knowledge about how to reach agreements." In contrast to Steinberg and Sandler, Dr. Udi Lebel, a political scientist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, believes that a narrower coalition might be more stable. "I remember the debates among the academic consultants that surrounded Rabin," he said. "There was a conflict around the time of Oslo about what kind of coalition would be better. Paradoxically, he had a winning coalition of 61 mandates. Unfortunately, he paid the price in terms of its public legitimacy." "We assume we know what the interests of the different actors are and that they know each others' interests, but this is not always the case," Lebel said. "One has to ask, for instance, whether Lieberman wants to show that he is someone who fulfills promises such as helping immigrants and reducing crime, and becomes part of the establishment to do so, or whether he is dreaming of becoming the leader of the Right in four years, in which case he should place himself squarely in the opposition." "We know how to play with scripts of stability and the allocation of budgets, but we cannot map out anyone's ultimate goals or values," Lebel said.