Analysis: A recipe for gridlock

Forming a coalition could be tricky.

elections2009_248 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Take a ruling party that controls less than a fourth of the Knesset, add a couple of mid-size parties that could bring down the government on a whim and top it off with a few extortionists along for the ride. Put it all together and you have the recipe for Israel's 32nd government, which will start being formed as soon as the final results of Tuesday's election are in. When Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu still enjoyed momentum, his associates spoke openly about winning 38 seats, the same number the Likud won under the helm of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Or at least 35 seats, the maximum possible without Netanyahu's nemesis, Moshe Feiglin, entering the Knesset. Now Netanyahu's former aide Ophir Akunis, who is 26th on the Likud list, could end up unemployed. And yet, the Likud could still win the election with 25 seats, thanks to the rise of Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, the pollsters' traditional underestimation of Shas, and a forecast for rain that traditionally helps sectarian parties at the expense of large ones. It's no wonder that Netanyahu has started warning in his speeches that if he does not win by a wide enough margin, there could be another election in a year and a half. There is no greater threat to an audience of Israelis than another election. Another war they can handle, but not another few months of election propaganda. The easiest thing for Netanyahu to do if he won the race would be to form a narrow, right-wing coalition with the 65 to 70 MKs of the Likud's satellite parties. But he has said that not forming a national unity government was the biggest mistake of his political career, so that is not an option. While Netanyahu has said that he would like both Kadima and Labor inside his coalition, sources close to him admit privately that Netanyahu wants to see Labor chairman Ehud Barak as his defense minister due to the threat from Iran, and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni as opposition leader due to the threat from Kadima. That means a coalition numbering some 80 MKs from Likud, Labor, Israel Beiteinu, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Habayit Hayehudi, in which Israel Beiteinu's MKs will constantly bicker with Labor legislators who called Lieberman Rabbi Meir Kahane's Siamese twin, and Shas, whose mentor compared Lieberman to Satan. It is likely that Netanyahu would leave the National Union out of his coalition to appease Labor. But if the Labor MKs who don't want a coalition with Lieberman win their fight, Netanyahu could end up with a fragile coalition of only 65 MKs. Should President Shimon Peres ask Livni to form the government, she will have an even harder time. She said Sunday night that she wanted a "real national unity government" of Kadima, Labor and Likud. But sources close to Netanyahu said there was no chance that Likud would join a Livni-led government. That means the only coalition Livni could form would consist of Kadima, Labor, Israel Beiteinu, Habayit Hayehudi and Meretz. Such a government would be more stable if Shas and United Torah Judaism joined, but Livni said too much during the campaign to burn bridges with the haredim. So no matter who wins the election, they will have to embark on a no-less-difficult campaign to build a stable government, especially if they wake up Wednesday morning to election results that are a recipe for gridlock.