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Netanyahu’s coalition: Who’s in, who’s out

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Late Wednesday evening before the clock struck midnight Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needed to finalize a coalition of parties willing to endorse him in order to secure his fourth term as Israel’s leader. Two hours before his deadline he cinched a deal with the hardline pro-settler group Bayit Yehudi headed by the charismatic Naftali Bennett. Even with the deal, Netanyahu now hangs by a thread. His coalition includes a scant 61 out of 120 parliament members, down from the 67 votes he thought were in his pocket. The government will convene with a cabinet full of Netanyahu’s political rivals and a weak coalition—one of the weakest in Israel’s history. If Netanyahu cannot appease every member of his ruling government, he will need to seek support from his opposition led by the Zionist Camp’s Issac Herzog in order to survive.

Netanyahu’s coalition-building process was thrown into disarray Monday when Netanyahu’s chief political ally, Avigdor Liberman announced Monday his group and their 6 votes were out the door. The two split last year over social benefits that Lieberman wanted for his secular-nationalist constituents, but Netanyahu gave them to religious right-wing groups instead.

The deal Netanyahu cut with Bennett means the Likud party is headed even further to the right. The Likud negotiating team dispatched Ze’ev Elkin to lock in the last minute agreement with Bennett’s camp that saved Netanyahu. Elkin is a settler and Knesset chair of the foreign affairs and defense committees. He comes from the far-right strand of Likud. As an unabashed annexationist, he wants to formally incorporate the West Bank into Israel. He does not support any form of Palestinian sovereignty. His leadership in bringing in Bennett signals an even steeper hardline turn.

The full contents of the agreement will be revealed by next week when the new cabinet members are announced and sworn in. Already Israeli correspondents are reporting on the horse trading that took place for Bennett’s votes. Haaretz wrote:

“[T]he education budget will be raised by 630 million shekels (163.4 million), 1 billion shekel (250 million dollars) will be allocated for raising the salaries of soldiers in their third year, and the Ariel University budget will be raised. In addition, the NGO bill will likely be passed, a focus will be made on improving accessibility for disabled in educational institution, on security measures for transportation in the West Bank, and on strengthening missions in the periphery.”

Some cabinet positions were made public immediately. Although Bennett heads the fourth smallest party in the government (eight seats), he ruefully exploited Netanyahu’s desperation. A top minister position was reserved for Ayelet Shaked who is most known outside of Israel for her frequent and repeated xenophobic remarks. Mondoweiss’ Ben Norton reported yesterday on her yesterday, and her calls for a genocide on the Palestinian people.

Another leadership spot went to Bayit Yehudi’s Uri Ariel. The current housing minister was upgraded to run the Ministry of Agriculture, a powerful position because it presides over the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division, a pool of millions of dollars of dark funds used for construct settlements. Haaretz also reported Bayit Yehudi will get the position of Deputy Defense Minister.

Netanyahu and Likud have not made any statements on the coalition or the deal with Bennett other than a few ceremonial words to President Reuven Rivlin. “I am honored to inform you that I have been successful in forming a government, which I will request is brought before the Knesset for its approval as soon as possible,” he said.

Herzog who came in second in the 2015 elections winning 24 seats to Netanyahu’s 30, and Palestinian leaders have come out with full forced rejections of Israel’s nosedive to the right. Herzog wrote on Facebook Shaked’s appointment “threatened the rule of law” and the deal with Bennett was a state-run “fire sale.”

“Netanyahu has once again proven survival is more important than improving the welfare and quality of life for all citizens of Israel who are yearning for change and hope,” said Herzog.

Head of Israel’s third largest party and leader of the Joint Arab List Ayman Odeh told Mondoweiss, “The Netanyahu-Bennett coalition is a social disaster and danger for democracy. This coalition buries down all hope for a peace agreement and solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” He said the new government would cause deep rifts between Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel, promoting “racist laws which will harm the most the Arab citizens in the country.”

With such a thin margin of support, Netanyahu cannot afford any moves that would cause his coalition to crumble. Although in the wake of his silence on the coalition deal, some commentators speculated it is Netanyahu who is playing Bennett.

“This is only round one,” wrote Aaron David Miller for the Wall Street Journal. Miller suggested Netanyahu accepted Bennett’s terms in bad faith, writing the prime minister could have made the agreement with plans to later swap out Bennett’s party for the center-left Zionist Union headed by opposition leader Issac Herzog.

There is logic to this ploy. By signing a truce with Bennett, even one that leaves Netanyahu (temporarily) powerless, Netanyahu gets to keep his mandate as prime minister. If he had dropped Bennett and forged a more stable coalition with Herzog straight out of the gate, Herzog was thought to demand sharing the prime minister position on a two-year rotation. “A national unity government with Mr. Herzog would solve some of Mr. Netanyahu’s problems and leave him in the center, “ wrote Miller, “But Mr. Netanyahu won’t agree to rotate.”

This all means that in a matter of weeks Bennett could be out and Herzog, or someone else, could be in. Although Herzog has not given any indication this might happen, Netanyahu does at least have an opportunity to surface with strength yet again. When elections were called for last year he was initially regarded a clear front-runner, although the race proved tight. He did clear 6 seats above Herzog in the final ballot count. Then when the polls closed it was obvious that Netanyahu faced major hurdles in coalition building. He has political enemies. And his friends in his coalition are not friends with each other. Still, if Netanyahu can keep his government together and complete his full four-year term, he will surpass David Ben-Gurion’s time in office and become Israel’s longest serving prime minister.

Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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16 Responses

  1. just on May 7, 2015, 3:55 pm

    I have to say that I barely made it past “the hardline pro-settler group Bayit Yehudi headed by the charismatic Naftali Bennett”.

    Charismatic? Really? Not from where I am sitting…

    As far as the Palestinian people, in and out of Israel, nothing Israel does bodes well for them. I’m sure that Ayman Odeh is correct:

    ““The Netanyahu-Bennett coalition is a social disaster and danger for democracy. This coalition buries down all hope for a peace agreement and solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” He said the new government would cause deep rifts between Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel, promoting “racist laws which will harm the most the Arab citizens in the country.” ”

    Neither is the US or EU doing any of the heavy lifting required. So it’s up to us to make change happen with our governments and leaders.

    I only hope that more people are paying attention as Israel continues its rapid descent.

    • Egbert on May 8, 2015, 6:04 am

      Bennett reminds me of Nicholson’s Joker – sans face paint.

  2. a blah chick on May 7, 2015, 5:51 pm

    Remember that they raised the threshold to prevent smaller parties from threatening to pull out and ruining the coalition. Oh, and to get rid of the Arabs. Talking about biting yourself in the a**!

    • eGuard on May 10, 2015, 3:43 pm

      It also forced non-Jewish voters to vote by ethnic lines. No option available to vote “socialist” or “liberal” when you are a Palestinian. Sort of gerrymandering-by-ethnicity. (Racymandering? Bantustandering? Judaisation?)

  3. David Doppler on May 7, 2015, 6:17 pm

    I think you meant Bennett was “ruthless” in exploiting Netanyahu’s desperation. The rest of us are “rueful” about the whole mess.

    As to Netanyahu “playing” Bennett, so that he can bring Herzog in in his place, that’s a laughable effort at spin. First, it was Bennett who took Lieberman’s defection Monday as a signal for a fire sale, and he promptly announced his new demands then put his cellphone on Airplane Mode to avoid any communication with Netanyahu until there was no other choice. Some sucker. Second, Netanyahu has been trying to bring Herzog in since the beginning, spreading rumors of ongoing talks, but they’ve all been rejected by Herzog who keeps responding with the litany of reasons why change in leadership is needed. Here’s what he tweeted:

    “’This government is devoid of responsibility, stability, and an ability to govern,’ tweeted Herzog, who has been conspicuously silent in recent weeks, fueling speculation that he had not ruled out joining Netanyahu in a unity government.

    “’This government is one of national failure,’ Herzog tweeted. ‘A government that is susceptible to extortion is a narrow, weak government that won’t advance a thing and will be quickly replaced by an alternative that represents hope and responsibility.’”

    I think it is at least as likely that Kahlon will pull out, wanting only to push economic reforms from within a broad-based government (what he has always said). His economic reforms will have no chance against Bennett and the Religious Parties, whose agendas are very different, and whose tactics will be just what Bennett did this week, my way, or the government is dead, take it or leave, I’m turning my cellphone off now. It was so bad in Netanyahu’s last government that Kahlon resigned in protest. How could it not be much worse this time?

    • Krauss on May 8, 2015, 2:39 pm

      The critical point here is that Herzog has refused to categorically rule out sitting in a coalition.

      In other words: he wants it.

      His party tried to introduce a motion at a party gathering but he killed it, this was right after the elections.

      Bibi is absolutely leaving the door open. If Herzog accepts being #2, he’ll join. But I don’t think he will. He’ll wait for Bibi’s fragile coalition to be tumbling down and then he will count on Bibi to cave, just like Bibi caved to Bennett.

      That’s not a bad strategy, but I think he’ll find it hard to stop the movement towards new elections once it starts. The right-wing will feast and gore on Bibi’s flesh. Both Bennett and Lieberman will both gain share of the right-wing vote and Bibi’s credibility after cozying up with Herzog would have been destroyed. No more last-minute rants against Arabs would save him then.

      Overall, I think Bennett and company will rush through their bills on NGOs, the media, the judiciary etc as fast as they can. They know their time is limited.

  4. David Doppler on May 7, 2015, 7:39 pm

    And here’s another angle, reported by Jason Ditz at

    It seems Jewish Home is its own “coalition,” and one of its ministers, Uri Ariel, head of a former religious party that merged to form Jewish Home, now wants the Justice Ministry for himself, even while Netanyahu fences with Ayeled Shaked and Bennett over stripping that position’s power before she gets it. Ariel is threatening to withdraw unless he gets it instead, and his faction is worth 3 or 4 seats.

    So it is truly a “government that is susceptible to extortion.” Twice in two days, over the same appointment. And the WSJ spins it that Netanyahu is “playing” Bennett. Netanyahu is being played so hard and so fast by so many that even he is going to soon grow tired of himself.

  5. weiss on May 8, 2015, 1:00 am

    All these dirty backdoor deals between the Fascists make me feel like I need to take a shower, but the stink just won’t go away no matter how hard I scrub…

    Just Plain Disgusting….

    And yet another reason why I am Ashamed to be Jewish.

    • Vera Gottlieb on May 8, 2015, 11:41 am

      I too am ashamed of my Jewish background.

    • just on May 8, 2015, 11:47 am

      weiss and Vera~ This horror and these monsters have nothing to do with your Jewishness!

      That’s a win for them if you feel “ashamed”. They want loyalty oaths to Zionism and Israel above all else.

      Don’t let them co- opt your faith, your personal history, nor your identity.

      • eljay on May 8, 2015, 12:17 pm

        || just: weiss and Vera~ This horror and these monsters have nothing to do with your Jewishness! ||

        Agreed. You have nothing to be embarrassed about. If anything, you should be justifiably angry that Zio-supremacists:
        – have co-opted Jewishness and Judaism for their own unjust and immoral needs and plans; and
        – put good people like you at risk by insisting that you, too, be held accountable for their actions.

  6. Egbert on May 8, 2015, 6:01 am

    4th term? Are there any limits to the number of terms that the likes of Netanyahu can serve?

  7. eusebio on May 8, 2015, 9:25 am

    The peoples of the World claim the rights to peace and Development Sustainable

  8. Vera Gottlieb on May 8, 2015, 11:40 am

    Netanyahu will be israel’s downfall.

  9. Boo on May 8, 2015, 8:51 pm

    It appears that Bibi is trying to see just how many dogs he can cram into one little, creaky, tottering manger.

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