Analysis: Coalition looking strong as Knesset opens winter session

Analysis Coalition look

The Knesset halls rang with a buoyancy similar to the first day of school Monday, but for opposition members, the enthusiasm was somewhat curbed by the stability - barring any surprises - of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition. A senior Kadima MK, sitting alone in the dining room morosely explained that until a critical issue, such as outpost removal, came up, the coalition would remain strong. A second veteran former MK presented a more pessimistic outlook from Kadima's perspective, arguing that Netanyahu was savvy enough to translate even those controversial issues into political success, or to manage to avoid them altogether. Instead, he offered, the straw that could break the coalition camel's back would have to be something "small, something completely random and out of the blue." During the Knesset's long winter session, parliamentary time is dominated by budget disputes, which frequently pit coalition parties against the prime minister, but with a biennial budget passed during the summer session, that potential for conflict has been skirted. Finance Committee members joked Monday that they would have to fabricate topics for committee hearings in the coming session, now that they do not have to debate the budget. The Kadima MK also dismissed with a shrug the possibility of a Labor split impacting the coalition, instead offering an optimistic forecast - at least from his point of view - that an indictment filed against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman could shake things up. The focus among Kadima MKs on the Lieberman investigation reflects another interesting dynamic at work in the current Knesset session. No spectators have suggested that Lieberman's resignation - either as chairman of Israel Beiteinu or as foreign minister - would bring down the government. Rather, it would enable Kadima to join the coalition in return for Lieberman's plum ministerial position. The fact a number of Kadima MKs express optimism that the indictment will come sooner rather than later illustrates the fact that they view it as more likely - or at least more convenient - to join the coalition rather than to bring it down. The opposition could mount a war of attrition against the coalition, similar to the one carried out by Likud in the summer of 2008. If that were to happen some veteran lawmakers view the key tactic to be private members' bills and not no-confidence votes or defeating government-supported initiatives. One such initiative was torpedoed during the summer session. Private members' bills can foster dissent among the coalition parties. If chosen carefully these bills reflect certain values that force members of the government coalition to fight each other. Social welfare bills with high budgetary price tags could create friction between Shas, which protect its pro-welfare image and Likud who must ultimately come up with the funds. But on Monday, such potential cracks in the coalition were still far in the future, and with opposition MKs who seemed just as eager to join the coalition as to bring it down, Netanyahu could rest easy knowing that of all of his coming challenges, maintaining the Knesset advantage might be the easiest.