Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu March 3, 2013. (photo:Gali Tibbon/Reuters)
Israeli President Shimon Peres met with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday and offered him a 14-day extension to form a government after Netanyahu failed to do so during the month following the January election. Netanyahu ascribed his failure to a "boycott of a certain sector," by which he means the surging centrist party, Yesh Atid, led by Yair Lapid.
The upshot is, he's in a very big pickle (and one we saw coming a mile away). From Isabel Kershner at The New York Times:
His options have been curtailed by an unexpected alliance between two rising stars bent on preventing his longstanding ultra-Orthodox allies from joining the next government.
During the 28-day period, Netanyahu managed to forge a pact only with the party of former foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, whose six-member faction "The Movement" has given him 37 seats, way short of the minimum 61 needed to confirm a new coalition.
In a brief statement following his meeting with Peres on Saturday night, Netanyahu hinted that at least one potential coalition partner refused to sit alongside others.
Netanyahu has faced demands from the parties that placed second and fourth, Yesh Atid (There is a Future) and Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home), to slash mass exemptions from military conscription and cut welfare stipends to ultra-Orthodox Jews.
In coalition talks on Friday with Bayit Yehudi, Netanyahu's chief negotiator said the right-wing party was unwilling to sit alongside ultra-Orthodox parties but Bayit Yehudi officials denied this.
Although he did not name Bayit Yehudi or Yesh Atid as the reason for his inability to form a coalition, Netanyahu said some parties were boycotting others.
"In these past four weeks I tried to form the broadest possible government ... I think the ultra-Orthodox public is prepared to accept (demands by other partners) but the main reason that I have not managed to complete the task by today is ... because there is a boycott of a certain sector," he said.
And that "certain sector" just happens to be the surprise winners of the last elections, Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid, which refuses to enter a coalition with Haredim (Shas and longstanding ultra-Orthodox allies ) and has formed a pact with Bayit Yehudi, Naftali Bennet's national religious Jewish Home party-- which in turn says it will not enter the government without Yesh Atid. So much for the progressive claims made for Yesh Atid.
Netanyahu faces a gridlock. On his right, prominent members of his party, Likud, are members of the Land of Israel Lobby who want him to adopt the Levy report, thus enabling annexation of the West Bank, which will lead to international isolation. A large portion of the Likud base has threatened to abandon him if he doesn't toe the line. Netanyahu is beholden to them, as we noted last fall, citing a rightwing report:
“I’m afraid that Netanyahu is more obedient to the pressure from the United States and from Europe than to the pressure from his own voters,” [Member of Knesset Aryeh Eldad] said. “We are here to explain to him that he will lose the base of his own voters if he will surrender to the demands of the international community and destroy more settlements in Israel.”
Since then, Likud's radical base has not diminished, it's turned further to the right; and extremist members have threatened to take over Likud, as Alex Kane reported last week. Likud has long aligned itself with the ultra-Orthodox parties. And as Allison Deger reminds us, leaders from Likud, Shas and the National Union sent a letter to Netanyahu demanding he annex the West Bank.
They want annexation, settlement growth, welfare stipends and they do not want to join the military. Yesh Atid and Jewish Home both are against military exemptions for the ultra orthodox settlers. (Personally I think there's something really creepy about all those settlers being in the army, given the coordination factor... )
So, he's between rocks-- which reminds me of something Akiva Eldar said, the veteran Israeli journalist, as we reported from his call with Peace Now ahead of the election:
So when Netanyahu is sworn in again, [Eldar said,] on Day One his coalition will have a radical right line and the Europeans will start to confront him. ....:
“I believe [the pressure] will not come from the Americans, it will come from the Europeans, because… the Europeans are getting fed up, and in the case of the Palestinian request to the UN, there was a message, you can go ahead with this, you don’t have to follow us and vote against the Palestinians. [It was a] subtle hint from the US to Europeans, you don’t have to worry about the European AIPAC, so take advantage of this.”
Netanyahu will respond to the economic pressure, and his coalition will break. There will be new elections not long after he forms his coalition, Eldar indicated.
When asked by a Peace Now caller what could produce a meaningful two-state solution, Eldar basically admitted no one is Israel is thinking about this.
Right, no one is very interested in "peace talks," it's not on Netanyahu's front burner. But he's supposed to be playing along with that meme, to stave off the Europeans who are chomping at the bit. Who knows what Obama's going to do over there, but Netanyahu has alreaded signaled his willingness to play along with the idea that he is interested in restarting peace talks. And he's assigning that role to Tzipi Livni: she will be playing "a leading role in any talks with the Palestinians." Livni's party, (yes, the same politician outed in the Palestine papers as dismissing the Palestinian negotiating team's two-state proposal/offer that was so generous to Israel riots broke out in Palestine when they were leaked), is the only partner Netanyahu has found to join his new coalition!
The press is now openly questioning whether Netanyahu can spin a coalition out of this mix. And if he can't in 14 days, Peres could ask another politician to form a coalition. My bet is that even if he does form a coalition, or the wily Yesh Atid is able to pull one together, as Akiva Eldar predicted, the international pressure will keep up, the parties will contradict one another, and it's no time before Israel is back to new elections.
Then it could get interesting. There's always a possibility people who didn't vote in the last election will do so this time around. Netanyahu's weakened.
Further reading: Yousef Munayyer demonstrating the right-wing bloc’s power over the entire political order, and David Remnick, observing the same trend, pronouncing the Israeli political class a lost cause.