At the time of this writing, nearly a week since the elections, Israel is still without a new coalition agreement. Admittedly, it has the hint of form like an Impressionist painting, but not clear, delineated form. As the adage goes, “the devil is in the details” and he, the “devil,” can often be found lurking around the details and deal-makings of politics.
Deals, backroom and otherwise, are being floated as on the trading floor of a stock exchange. Even Losers (capital “L”) are in on the act. Hottest news off the press is that the big loser, Isaac “Bujie” Herzog, is trying to prevent Netanyahu from forming a coalition by promising Moshe Kahlon, the head of the Kulanu party and master of a pivotal 10 seats, a rotational premiership if Kahlon supports and helps Herzog form the governing coalition. The obvious question is what becomes of the same promise he made to Livni? Do the three have a game of political “musical chairs”? This underhanded gambit typifies Herzog and what makes him so unlikeable. Herzog and the Left benefited from, if not actively colluded with, the V-15 organization whose sole objective was embodied in its slogan, “Anyone but Bibi!” Presently, the U.S. Congress is investigating V-15 to make sure there was no illegal funding from sources close to President Obama ,who enthusiastically supported the notion of “Anyone but Bibi!” in his public treatment of Israel’s democratically elected PM. Congrats came with castigation as he warned the newly re-elected PM that the U.S. would “reevaluate” its support of Israel at the U.N. because of Netanyahu’s campaign speech questioning the sense of the ad nauseam praised “two-state solution.”
Another “Loser” claiming spoils is Yair Lapid, leader of the one-third-smaller Yesh Atid, who was voted the least effective of the new members of the last Knesset. Lapid is lobbying the present and apparently future Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, not to give the Interior Ministry to the Shas party. Perhaps this should be the new definition of chutzpah. It was Lapid with the peripatetic (and pathetic) Tzipi Livni who, in an act of regicide, staged the failed coup which led to Bibi bringing early elections. There is virtually no chance he will see a “cabinet seat” outside of his own kitchen, yet he petitions the man he tried to politically assassinate to do his bidding.
Patching together a government in so fractious an environment is no simple task; keeping it stitched up tight is much harder still. Even when accomplished, it has no guarantee of a long and happy existence. That is what befell Netanyahu’s last coalition. Theoretically, governments in Israel are to last four years, but this usually doesn’t comes to pass. As opposed to the U.S., where the election is for an individual — president, senator, congressman —and not for a particular party, Israel requires a 61-seat majority in the 120-member Knesset, to rule. Never in the 67-year history of the country has this occurred, and a coalition is the only way to accumulate the necessary seats to form a government.
Netanyahu’s last governing coalition, the 19th Israeli Knesset, lasted barely one and a half years and included two parties which serve as excellent examples of the strange alliances politics make: Yesh Atid, headed by Yair Lapid, and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah party. Despite receiving two key ministerial posts — finance and justice, respectively — in exchange for joining Netanyahu’s coalition, the honeymoon did not last long, not even making it out of shanah rishonah. Lapid and Livni almost immediately started publicly sniping at Netanyahu, blaming problems in the economy and the failing U.S.-sponsored Israel-Palestinian peace talks on him. Livni was outright insubordinate, holding unauthorized meetings with Palestinian negotiators. Governing became absolutely untenable and Netanyahu effectively staged his own “Night of the Long Knives” — a term based on an actual event 1500 years ago but now used only metaphorically, with no actual bloodshed but plenty of political slaughter — purging the government of Lapid and Livni, and calling for new elections in the shortest possible period: three months.
Eliminating rivals, riding high in the polls, and facing a vanquished opponent in Labor, Netanyahu was confident that Likud and the Right bloc would emerge stronger, dominant. If the elections were held the very day he felled his government, the results would have borne out his optimism; having to wait the mandated three months, Bibi learned the hard way that a lot can happen in 90 days.
Despite winning by a significant margin — six seats — the election was much more hotly contested than is quantitatively apparent. Netanyahu presumably will be given the formidable task of forming yet another coalition government by Israel’s President Reuven “Rubi” Rivlin, in his primary official duty. Rivlin’s condition for this is that Bibi formally apologize to Arab citizens of Israel for comments he made during the waning moments of the election. The devil truly is in the details, but for the sake of a nation facing existential challenges, parties should dispense with petty politics as usual and support Netanyahu in forming a coalition that enhances the Jewish nature and security of Israel, and not resort to extortion.
Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst, and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at email@example.com.