Thursday, May 7, 2015

Netanyahu’s new coalition, the Left--and G-d

(Updated May 8, 2015)

In Israel, voters don't vote directly for a Prime Minister (PM). They vote for a Political Party.
As a result of a national election, each political Party running receives seats in the Knesset (national Parliament) based upon a formula. The more votes a Party received, the more seats the Party gets. The leader of the Party that wins 61 seats in the Knesset (of 120 total) becomes PM. But in this 21st century (and for much of the last part of the 20th century), no one Party has won the required 61 seats in an election. The only way for the winning Party to get its leader to be PM, is to negotiate with other Parties. 
For example, look at what voters in the March 2015 elections gave the following Parties:
Likud (Benjamin Netanyahu): 30 seats
Labor-Hatnua (Isaac Herzog): 24 seats
Arab United Party: 13 seats
Jewish Home (Naftali Bennet): 8 seats
Kulanu: 10 seats
Shas: 7 seats
UTJ: 6 seats
There were other Parties, with their own number of seats. This was just an illustration.
Since Likud, Netanyahu's Party, didn't win the required 61 seats, he had to find enough Parties to join with him to get to that 61 number.
What complicates the process is ideology. Not all Parties share the same beliefs. Not all Parties want the country to go in the same direction. Netanyahu's challenge was to get to that 61 number without joining with Parties which want to take the country in a direction opposite to that which Netanyahu wants.
This year, Netanyahu had until midnight May 6, 2015 to get to that 61 seat total. If he failed to do that, Isaac Herzog of Labor-Hatnua would be given the chance. If he succeeded, he'd become PM.
Netanyahu almost didn't make it. Just two hours before the May 6, 2015 deadline threatened to end his chance to become the next Prime Minister, he finished building his new coalition. At ten pm, May 6, 2015, he came to an agreement with Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennet.

With that agreement, Netanyahu met the absolute minimum majority of Knesset seats he needed to rule—61 seats. He called Israel’s President before the midnight deadline. He declared that he had formed a new government.

It wasn’t what he wanted. 61 seats don’t give him any margin of error (see below). But he was glad to get it. He’s now Prime Minister.

Given how Israel’s politics work (and considering the individual players who join this new coalition), this new government isn’t ideal. It’s shaky. It could fail. In fact, given the mix within the coalition, it could fail at its first, second or third meeting, depending upon what’s on the agenda. Actually, it could fail before it’s sworn in--that’s how shaky it is.

Netanyahu will be challenged. With this coalition, he will no longer control with an iron fist. He can’t. He’ll have to compromise. He  may have to yield something every day in order to rule. His compromises could anger a lot of people. Any single compromise could cause any one of four coalition members to bolt (Shas, UTJ, Jewish Home, Kulanu). If any one of those four left the coalition, the coalition would immediately lose its 61-seat majority.  

Normally—though not always—that means a new election must be called. Given the closeness of the last election, any new national vote at this moment could mean trouble for Netanyahu.

Leftist Isaac Herzog (Labor-Hatnua) knows that. He knows how fractious Israel’s political arena is. He knows how shaky the coalition is. So he’s ready to fight. He really wants to be PM. He sees how close he is.
He's gone on the offensive even before the new government's been sworn in.  He calls the new government the weakest, most narrow Israeli government in Israel’s history (Moran Azulay, “Herzog: A national failure government was formed”, YNET, May 7, 2015). 

He sounds optimistic. He’s in fighting form (“Herzog: 'I Won't Be Netanyahu's Corkscrew", Arutz Sheva, May 7, 2015). 
I have no idea what that means, 'corkscrew'. But it's a great line. Herzog sounds like he’s already started his campaign to replace Netanyahu.

Herzog has to hate this new coalition. In theory, this new coalition stands for everything he--and Israel’s Left--hates. First, in theory, this new government stands for a strong Israel that rejects a two-state solution. The Left wants a two-state solution.

In theory, this new government will support new construction in Judea-Samaria. The Left wants to end construction in Judea-Samaria.

In theory, the new government will strengthen the ‘Jewishness’ of Israel. The Left wants to reduce the ‘Jewishness’ of Israel. Indeed, it wants to replace ‘Jewish’ with ‘democracy’, as if the two are mutually exclusive.

In theory, this government will renew its commitment to support Torah in Israel. The Left won’t support Torah.

But for Herzog, all of that doesn’t matter right now. Right now, he believes this new coalition won’t last (Elad Benari, “Herzog: This is a 'Government of National Failure'”, Arutz Sheva, May 7, 2015). It might even die before it takes office. His Leftist friends are already saying, this government will be easy to replace (Times of Israel, ibid).  

In my opinion, Benjamin Netanyahu won the 2015 national election because he used G-d’s name in public and turned explicitly to religious Zionists.
Yes, in some mystical manner, G-d's name is that powerful. Religious Zionists are potentially that influential.
Perhaps the tenuousness of his hold on power will encourage Netanyahu to focus on G-d some more. That wouldn’t be a bad thing—for Netanyahu or for Israel.

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