Analysis: Now the real battle begins

Netanyahu may have the Labor Party's support, but he'll still have to work hard for a stable coalition.

cabinet meeting cease-fire 248 88 (photo credit: GPO)
cabinet meeting cease-fire 248 88
(photo credit: GPO)
When Labor chairman Ehud Barak's allies left the hall at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds following their victory in Tuesday night's vote on joining Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu's government, they were greeted by the Likud theme song. Labor Youth activists played the song to mock National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon for helping Netanyahu form his coalition. Netanyahu was indeed the big victor of the Labor convention. He got the defense minister he wanted to handle the threat from Iran and the national unity government he needed to show the world that he was not a right-wing, peace-preventing fanatic. But he did not get stability. Looking at the numbers, Netanyahu is now able to build a coalition of 67 MKs, including six from Labor and none from the National Union, with which Barak has refused to sit. That's just two more than the supposedly narrow right-wing government of 65 that Netanyahu did everything possible to avoid forming. And that's before he has dealt with the angry ministers-in-waiting inside his Likud Party. If he insists on keeping the Treasury, his top portfolio, for himself, he will anger not only his rival, MK Silvan Shalom, whom he enjoys irking, but also other Likud MKs who would each receive better portfolios if Shalom got Finance. Two months ago, when the Likud was still hoping for a landslide victory, several Likud lawmakers spoke openly about their hopes of becoming foreign minister, defense minister or justice minister, while MK Gilad Erdan said he wanted the more modest job of fighting traffic accidents as transportation minister. Now everyone in the Likud wants that portfolio, because it's one of the only jobs left. Netanyahu is going to have to work very hard to keep his coalition together unless Barak can succeed in somehow enforcing discipline inside his faction. That's why his office has already put out a warning that Labor's constitution prevents MKs who vote against the party from running for the next Knesset with it. But having the divided Labor Party in his coalition is still much better for Netanyahu than having to deal with the National Union. Now he won't have to explain to the world why legislators in his coalition are marching through Umm el-Fahm, and he won't need to rely on National Union chairman Ya'acov Katz, whom Netanyahu's associates have described as delusional. Reacting to the Likud-Labor deal, Katz said he would now insist that the coalition agreement state that the government would oppose a Palestinian state, and he would demand two portfolios for his four-MK faction. "Netanyahu has given everyone what they wanted, so he will give us what we want, too," Katz said. "If Barak got five portfolios for six MKs, he will probably offer us two or three portfolios, including the Finance Ministry. Netanyahu wants to be prime minister so bad, I'm sure he'll make every effort to reach a deal with us." Now all Katz can do is protest in the opposition against Netanyahu's government, along with the Labor Youth.