Editors note: At press time, after being tapped by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to be the first to attempt to form a new government following the country’s fourth election in two years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly scheduled a meeting with Yamina chair Naftali Bennet for Thursday, April 8. This followed consultation by Rivlin with all parties elected to the 24th Knesset, which saw 52 MKs nominating the PM; 45 recommending Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid; and seven nominating Bennet. Netanyahu is also reportedly offering senior governmental positions to any individuals who leave parties that stand in opposition to him. Even if he secures Bennet’s support, the PM will still fall two seats short of a majority, leaving the election’s outcome in question and likely to remain that way for some time. The 24th Knesset was sworn in on Tuesday, April 6.
Maybe there will be a coalition. Maybe Israel is headed for another round of elections in August or September. Maybe the weeks of political maneuvering ahead of us are all a waste of time—in fact, this is more than a “maybe”; this is a high probability. And yet, there are other options, and I will lay them out here, numbers and all, for you to easily understand.
Religious Right + Deserters
This could be a coalition headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It will include his “natural partners”: his own party, Likud (30 seats); the two charedi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism (9 + 7); and the hardcore right Religious Zionist party (6).
The trickier part is that Netanyahu needs the Yamina party (7 seats), headed by Naftali Bennett, to form such a coalition. Bennett is uncommitted. Prior to the election, he presented himself as an alternative to Bibi and still thinks it’s time for the PM to go.
But even if Bennett decides that there is no better path for him to pursue, that is still not enough. Look at the math: 30+9+7+7+6=59. Two more members of Knesset are needed. Netanyahu will search for them in other parties. Are there members of Blue and White that could switch? Or maybe members of the disappointing New Hope? If he can find two deserters—and promise them the moon—then the PM will have a coalition.
Is it likely? Not very likely, because emotions run high and deserters will be treated accordingly. And Bennett might have better options.
Religious Right + Raam
This is the most interesting option, which would include the combination of the previous coalition (59), but instead of adding two deserters, the Islamist Raam Party (4 seats) would complete a coalition of 63 members.
There are obstacles to such coalition. Raam is a conservative party, and on many social issues it can easily agree with ultra-Orthodox parties (no to gay rights, yes to religion as a political guide). On the other hand, it is an Arab party with ties to Islamist movements such as Hamas. The hardcore rightists, those of Religious Zionism and maybe also those of Yamina, do not seem comfortable with the idea of partnering, or even relying, on Raam. Still, Netanyahu will push them hard: It is either this or the “left”; it is either this or a fifth election.
Is it likely? Maybe as a minority coalition, with Raam supporting from the outside. If this happens, it will be a weird result to a dramatically close election.
Religious Right + Center
This coalition would exclude Likud and Netanyahu. The “right” includes Yamina (7) and New Hope (6). The religious right features the two charedi parties (9+7). The center comprises Blue and White (8), Yesh Atid (17) and possibly Labor (7, as a leftist addition). Numbers: 17+9+8+7+7+7+6=61.
But there are many difficulties with such a coalition. The charedi parties are sticking with Netanyahu for now. They’d have to be convinced to ally with strongly secular parties such as Yesh Atid. Also, there is the question of who will be prime minister. Yair Lapid has the most seats (17) but both Bennett of Yamina, Gideon Saar of New Hope and the charedi parties will not sit under him. They want a right-wing religious government, even though many members come from the center-left (Yesh Atid and Blue and White).
Yes, this is chutzpah, but also acknowledgment of political reality. Lapid has no coalition. Bennett might have one. The deal between them could be simple: Get Bibi out of the PM’s office—your high priority—in exchange for support of a government dominated by the religious right.
Is it likely? In theory it’s possible, but in real life, political leaders have their egos and their constituencies.
The charedi voters want Netanyahu, Bennett is still on the fence, Lapid can’t believe Bennett’s nerve (and his voters begin to grumble), Benny Gantz of Blue and White could benefit from a fifth election. In short, Gideon Saar is the only PM candidate that could make this coalition happen. But the more likely scenario is that this coalition will not happen.
No Bibi Coalition
Fifty-seven members of Knesset belong to parties who vowed not to sit in a Netanyahu coalition. These include members of the centrist Yesh Atid (17), centrist Blue and White (8), leftist Labor (7), ultra-secular and Russian Israel Beitenu (7), the Arab Joint List (6), rightist New Hope (6) and leftist Meretz (6). 17+8+7+7+6+6+6=57. Add Islamist Raam (4), and you have a coalition. A coalition with one mission to complete: Get Netanyahu out of the PM’s office and hope for the best, because on most other matters, there is not much that connects Saar and Ayman Oded (of the Joint list), not much that ties Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beiteinu) and Mansour Abbas (Raam). Ideologically speaking, this coalition, presumably under Lapid as the PM, is ridiculous. But the Bibi factor is the reason why Israel goes to the polls time and again. A year of such a messy mosaic is a possible cure for at least this one disease.
Is it likely? No. It is true that ideology doesn’t play as much of a role in Israeli politics as it used to. And yet, I can’t see Saar sitting with the Joint List in one coalition. And besides, Raam has not hinted that it would join such a coalition. Maybe a partnership with Netanyahu seems more appealing.
We can mix and match some other options that could get us to 61, such as a Bennett coalition that includes the Zionist Religious party (67). But it’s hard to imagine Labor accepting such a partnership. Another option is a Netanyahu coalition with Blue and White, again, to prevent a fifth election (the likelihood of Gantz accepting such an offer is slim to nonexistent). Perhaps Saar and Bennett will partner with Likud, forcing Bibi out for a year and having Bennett serving as the PM during the first term. It’s hard to see Netanyahu going for this option rather than having a fifth election and staying in power during another roll of the dice.
The picture is clear, complications are many. A sober politician is working hard to form a coalition while also strategizing for the next election. The first item on his planning board: how to make sure that when a new election is called, somebody else will be blamed for the miserable outcome.
“I know the position held by many, that the president should not give the role to a candidate that is facing criminal charges,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement on Tuesday, April 6, referencing the corruption cases Netanyahu is currently battling, “but according to the law and the decision of the courts, a prime minister can continue in his role even when he is facing charges.”
Rivlin continued, “Given [the current] state of affairs, when there is no majority of 61 Knesset members supporting a particular candidate, and without additional considerations indicating the chances of the candidates to form a government, I have come to a decision based on the numbers of recommendations, which indicates that MK Benjamin Netanyahu has a slightly higher chance of forming a government. Accordingly, I have decided to entrust him with the task of doing so.”
In his statement Tuesday, Rivlin said his selection of Netanyahu was “not an easy decision on a moral and ethical basis,” adding that he “fears for [his] country.”
With a deadlock of 60-60, Israel may be facing its fifth round of elections in a little more than two years.
By Shmuel Rosner/ www.jewishjournal.com
and combined sources