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Bennett’s Unholy Alliance with Lapid

Not exactly what Jewish Home voters thought they would get on election day.

Israeli's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich, who is flanked by Naftali Bennett to her right and Yair Lapid to her left.

Israeli's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich, who is flanked by Naftali Bennett to her right and Yair Lapid to her left.
Photo Credit: Nati Shohat/FLASH90

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I’m not going to pretend I was satisfied with the Likud’s election campaign, or even all of Prime Minister’s Netanyahu’s policies/positions over the last four years (e.g., Bar Ilan, the freeze, etc.). But in the past four years, we’ve had, first of all, a government that lasted  just about four years, which is quite an achievement in and of itself in Israel. And we’ve managed to stave off international pressure while getting sanctions in place against Iran. At the same time we’ve had modest domestic achievements, keeping the economy stable despite a global crisis and lowering the monthly cost of living.

Yet, leading up to the elections, I was shocked by how many people were so ready to abandon the Likud and Netanyahu, despite the fact that they knew only he could be Prime Minister and would need a strong showing for the Likud-Beitenu slate in order to have a stable center of gravity for his coalition.

On the day of election, I argued that weakening the Likud-Beitenu, even if by voting for the Jewish Home, to Netanyahu’s right, will actually strengthen whatever left-of-center party will join the government. That’s because even if “the right” has a majority of the Knesset, even 65 seats, a stable government requires more than that. Netanyahu will have no choice, just as he did after the last election, but to bring at least one party from the left in to stablize the coalition. Otherwise any coalition partner could bring down the government.

As the Likud-Beitenu dropped in support, that became more and more true, since the less seats it would have the more vital each coalition partner would be. While that would make Jewish Home more vital to the coalition, it would also have a similar affect on the other parties. The only method Netanyahu has of neutralizing that problem is by bringing in more parties. Practically, the weaker Likud-Beitenu was, the more necessary a left-wing party would become to the coalition. That party was Yesh Atid, which seems to be the most centrist of the sizable left-wing parties.

That prediction, or actually warning, came true with a vengeance. Not only did the Likud lose seven mandates worth of votes to Jewish Home (Jewish Home got 12 and Power to Israel got two, for a total of 14 – seven mandates greater then these two parties represented in the prior Knesset), but Yesh Atid almost doubled in size, going from a predicted 10 to 19 mandates.

So, predictably, Netanyahu’s first post-election call was to Yair Lapid.

At that point Netayahu had two realistic possibilities for a right-of-center coalition: Likud-Beitenu-Jewish Home-Yesh Atid+Shas (with a moderate Haredi-draft plan) for a 72 seat coalition OR  Likud-Beitenu-Jewish Home-Shas-UTJ-Livni-(Kadima) for a 67-69 seat coalition without Lapid (unclear draft plan, but relatively decent foreign policy positions).

(A Likud-Beitenu-Jewish Home-Shas-UTJ coalition would amount to 62 seats, would result in do-nothing government, with a bad budget, and might even fall by the time the next budget came up).

When it became clear that Lapid’s demands were too inflexible, making Shas unwilling to join the coalition, meaning the first option was not going to happen, the second option became more necessary. So Liberman went about trying to make it happen, meeting with the Jewish Home. Talks began with Livni as well. But then Bennett and Lapid formed an alliance:  Bennett would not join the government, unless Lapid also joined.

Practically, that means that Netanyahu can’t form a government without Lapid. It also means that Lapid will be strengthened in his demands, specifically his universal draft plan (which sees lowering the amount of yeshiva-exemptions to a mere 400, lower than it was in the early years of the state) and Shas and UTJ will not sit in the government. Lapid will be doubly strengthened in his demand for a renewed focus on the peace process (he still clings to Golda Meir’s non-sense slogan of, you only make peace with your enemies), because not only does he have more leverage with Netanyahu, but also because Netanyahu will need to bring in more left-wing partners to stabilize the coalition, such as Tzipi Livni who demands that she lead a renewed negotiation effort.

Netanyahu tried to break the alliance by offering Bennett virtually everything he wanted prior to elections – greater say over government guidelines and ministries – in exchange for being the first party to join the coalition. That would have weakened Lapid’s position and forced him to moderate. But Bennett refused.

So instead of having a right-of-center coalition which can pass a moderate universal draft plan and will not focus on reviving negotiations with the Palestinians (which will bring negative pressure on Israel and result in concessions and a weakened position vis-a-vis Iran), the government will be something like this: Likud-Beitenu-Jewish Home-Lapid-Livni-Kadima. That government will be more likely to make make negotiations a priority, make concessions to Obama/the Palestinian Authority and have an unrealistic draft plan. Not exactly what Jewish Home voters thought they would get on election day – another example of the brilliance of Israel’s electoral system.

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About the Author: Daniel Tauber is a frequent contributor to various prominent publications, including the Jewish Press, Arutz Sheva, Americanthinker.com, the Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz. Daniel is also an attorney admitted to practice law in Israel and New York and received his J.D. from Fordham University School of Law. You can follow him on facebook and twitter.


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9 Responses to “Bennett’s Unholy Alliance with Lapid”

  1. Kenneth Mathews says:

    A very good article that addresses an important topic. I disgaree with the author on one point he believes that "A Likud-Beitenu-Jewish Home-Shas-UTJ coalition would amount to 62 seats, would result in do-nothing government, with a bad budget, and might even fall by the time the next budget came up." This is not necessarily true. A large coalition that included Yesh Atid, Livni's Party, or Kadima would be a very divided coalition. Size is an advantage but UNITY is a much more important advantage. Better a small disciplined and unified army than a large undisciplined, confused and divided one. A Likud-Beitenu-Jewish Home-Shas-UTJ coalition would work if they agree upon a basic framework for addressing key issues and deal with all future disputes with binding arbitration within the coalition until the next required elections. MK Atias and MK Feiglin have already put forward proposals to deal with the military service issue – why not put them together to work out a compromise that the rightwing coalition can agree to? If Bennet does not remember that he is the leader of Jewish Home and not the co-leader of Yesh Atid then look to others in Jewish Home like MK Orit Struk, her background and achievements seem to make her commitment to Zionism and her understanding of the importance of UNITY in the defense of Zion obvious. Address all key issues within a Zionism framework – lower housing prices with new settlements, lower cost of living and balance budgets with honest free-markets- not crony-capitalism and not socialism, encourage Torah study and work, military service and establishing new communities national religious, Haredi, traditional, mixed etc.

  2. Hi, Unfortunately, the nature of the Israeli electoral system is to discourage unity. A 62-seat government lasting four years is a dream scenario. Moshe Feiglin has no influence over the coalition make up and is irrelevant to the formation of the coalition and how stable it is. Unity is something that there should be more of, but the reality is that it's not there. Making a government in reliance on it would be assuring a short-lived government. Netanyahu will not do it if he has any other option.

  3. as a loyal likud member and voter I must say that frankly netanyahu brought this on himself. starting with likud's ruthless negative campeighn against its own sister party follwed by netanyahu calling benett after the election even after the far left parties, end eventually inviting him for a meeting even after zehava gl-on, does not indicate an act of good faith. I don't know if this behavior is just a matter of the previous baggage between netanyahu and benett or worse – an indication of a possible idoelogical flip for bibi, but under the surcumstances its completely understandable why benett turned to seek a safety net with lapid. furthermore the fact that the negotiations are being run by bibis personal attorneys while the senior likud members are being blocked out is not a good sign.

  4. I'm not sure I agree with the premise of this article. Are you attacking Israel's electoral system, or Bennett's aliance with Yair Lapid? If the former, then I don't think this article actually makes a convincing case: Bennett and Lapid formed a unified alliance, ostensibly joining Israel's right and Israel's center-left.

    So let's assume the latter. Let me begin by saying that I voted for Bennett, and I'm actually quite happy he's joined forces with Lapid. Lapid hasn't taken much of a stance on security issues, but given his supporting base and given the fact that Tommy Lapid is his father, I will assume he is left-leaning.

    Let's examine Yesh Atid's platform. 7 of the 8 points are centered around domestic social reform, and are pretty much points that everyone except Haredim would support (and even then, I assume some Haredim might support universal conscription). The one point where people might not agree is his "two states for two peoples" point: a point, by the way, echoed very similarly by Likud-Beiteynu. While Likud doesn't have an "official platform" Bibi has never claimed to be against a two-state solution. So where, exactly, is the Lapid-Bennett alliance unholy?

    Let's talk universal conscription. This is a topic that I find difficult to type about because the very notion that people think they should be exempt from serving their homeland, the home of the Jewish people — the fact that there is a large percentage of Haredim who think they are above national service makes me seethe. Let me be clear: I am all for "torato omanuto." And I believe that the contnued existence of our nation is dependent on people who truly dedicate themselves to Torah study. But the two are not orthogonal: defending your country, your nation, the nation God promised to us is a commandment incumbent upon each and every Jew.

    It is the above point that makes me so happy to see Bennett and Lapid joining forces. It is this very point that makes me so happy that they've taken a hard line and said, "both or neither." Will they see eye to eye on every point? No. But it is time that Shas and UTJ realize that they are not just citizens when it is convenient. They are citizens always: and that includes between the ages of 18 and 21.

    And frankly, seeing a Likud-Yesh Atid-HaBayit HaYehudi government sits much better with me than seeing a Labor-Yesh Atid-Meretz-Livni-Kadima (I realize I'm missing a few mandates here) government. And if Shas sits in the opposition? So be it. Let them sit with Hadash – they don't serve this country either.

  5. Yedidya Bejell Getting back at Netanyahu is a very poor motivation for government formation and is no excuse for forcing the creation of a coalition which will lead to more pressure on Israel and more concessions. Likud and Bayit HaYehudi are not sister parties. There are no sister or brother parties in politics. In a campaign the main goal is to get as many mandates as possible. After the election, the main goal is to work together to do what is best for the country. After the elections, politicians are morally obligated to put the campaigns behind them and do what is best for those they represent.

  6. Yedidya Bejell Getting back at Netanyahu is a very poor motivation for government formation and is no excuse for forcing the creation of a coalition which will lead to more pressure on Israel and more concessions. Likud and Bayit HaYehudi are not sister parties. There are no sister or brother parties in politics. In a campaign the main goal is to get as many mandates as possible. After the election, the main goal is to work together to do what is best for the country. After the elections, politicians are morally obligated to put the campaigns behind them and do what is best for those they represent.

  7. Hi Michael Acobas, Hope all is well. Attacking Israel's electoral system, on the grounds that it provides no discouragement for completely switching positions (in this case, Bennett's campaign that he would of course join a Netanyahu government and would move the gov. away from Bar Ilan, but is now saying he won't joining a Netanyahu gov't without Lapid which also means bringing on livni which will lead to a situation whereby Israel comes under immense pressure) – that's just a side point here. I've written a lot about why it is a bad system, and I think that so much of how Israel operates is related to this problem, so whenever I can I show the link.

    The main point I am making here is really that what Bennett is doing is going to lead to int'l pressure on Israel – and it's based on the algebra of coalition making. I'm not saying Lapid's most important agenda item is the peace process, though what someone focuses on in their campaign often does not dictate everything they will in office. Lapid believes that Israel's presence in Judea and Samaria is an occupatoin. Lapid believes that if the right approach is taken we can make peace. Lapid said the disengagement was necessary to teach the settlers a lesson. Lapid said, right after the elections, that he wants the government to revive negotiations with the Palestinians (which in and of itself shows how he places the blame for the lack of negotiations on Netanyahu and not on Abbas, who wouldn't even negotiate during the settlement freeze).

    Let's assume though, that Lapid cares more about domestic issues. Even if that's the case, A government with Lapid and without Shas or UTJ means a government with Livni and potentially also Kadima. Livni won't join unless she gets to do peace process work. With Lapid and Livni (and probably also Kadima) in the government, and Livni being some kind of special minister of negotiations, we are going to see a lot of pressure from the United States and the international community, which will likely lead to dangerous concessions as well as less U.S. movement on Iran.

    It seems to me that people have blinders on when it comes to Bennett and this is augmented by anti-Haredi and anti-Netanyahu feeling.

  8. Just to explain what I mean by the system failing to discourage switching positions: In a district system, there is a definite group of voters who are judging a politician. So if a politician switches positions, the voters may be upset because it shows he is unreliable or dishonest or they may be upset because he promised them one thing or said indicated he believed in one policy perspective so by switching positions, they want somebody else who has the position they like. It all depends on the situation and the issue, but generally there is going to be some damage when someone switches sides of an issue or does something that contradicts in some way what they said before.

    In a single-district-proportional-party list system, there is no definite population that judges you. You can be elected by population Y in one election, but the next time draw votes from population Z. So it’s much less dangerous to switch positions, because you can go after a different segment of the population, which can be achieved by the switch or by campaigning before the next election. Also because the politician can target a new population who didn’t care or wasn’t aware of your previous position, the politician can worry less that he will look dishonorable.

    Also in this system, it is the party as a whole or the party chairman who can be held accountable. People on the list cannot be. Numbers 1-8 on a 10+ list are not that concerned about getting voted out of office. They are afraid they'll lose power, ministries, but they are not afraid of losing their job, which is a very powerful motivator and very important in a democracy, which is absent here. So there is a lot less discouragement to most politicians for switching positions, including chairmen. The discouragement would have to come from internal party bodies, whose decisions are heavily manipulated, even when it comes to an open primary.

  9. Anonymous says:

    With Bennet effectively joining Lapid insisting that they are both in or both out the coalition and if they are both in then there must be no religious parties Lapid has pretty much become the unofficial PM because Netanyahu has no allies to turn to and all Lapid is interested in is becoming the next PM so his priority will be politics that will make him popular rather than being a responsible coalition partner. It is possible that Lapid & Bennet want to force Netanyahu to hold a second election by blocking him getting a coalition. A second election will be fought on slogans rather than policy and Lapid especially is going to blame this very expensive second election on Netanyahus insisting that the religious are coalition partners at the expense of secular issues and secular Israelis love to hate religious so Lapid comes across as the man of principle, the champion of anybody who doesn't want rabbis dictating how they live their lives etc and he may well win the election and because of short sightedness on behalf of the voters we will have PM Lapid.

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