Now it’s getting real, at least according to the newly right-wing daily Maariv: the chairman of Yesh Atid, the leather-jacketed, cool TV journalist and host Yair Lapid, and the chairman of Habayit Hayehudi, the knitted yarmulke wearing, hi-tech wizard, NRP resurrecting Naftali Bennett have agreed on coordinating their positions when facing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition negotiations team.
Both leaders – the two most distinct winners of the recent election – have been holding their own negotiations, and agreed to present a unified position as their conditions for joining the next government.
Together, their two parties present a formidable block of 31 seats, equal to the Likud-Beitenu yield in the elections. Should they stick by their mutual commitments—which, in itself would be a refreshing Israeli phenomenon—they could easily force Netanyahu’s hand away from a partnership with the two Haredi parties, Shas and Torah Judaism. Those two only have a measly 18 seats to offer the embattled PM.
According to Maariv, which has recently been purchased by Shlomo Ben-Tzvi’s Hirsch Media, owner of the right-wing daily Makor Rishon—and as such is very reliable on issues concerning Bennett and the settlements movement—the two parties agreed that they would either join the coalition together or not at all. (This means that, should both remain outside the government, Lapid would be Opposition leader, to Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich’s chagrin).
Senior Likud officials have confirmed, according to Maariv, that such an agreement really exists, adding that it significantly limits Netanyahu’s room for maneuvering.
Netanyahu’s ideal coalition government would rely on Jewish Home, Shas and Torah Judaism (61 seats) with Kadima’s additional 2 seats and Shaul Mofaz, possibly, as Defense Minister. Indeed, Bibi has no interest in inviting Lapid to a seat of power in his government, which could make him even more popular four years from now.
So that, strangely enough, it is Lapid who depends on Bennett rather than the other way around, to keep his word. But, political nickels and dimes aside, the two men can only help each other by being known to cooperate publicly: two young men, both successful in their own rights, injecting honesty and principles into Israel’s cynical, depressing, old politics. And as such they’re certainly making Bibi look bad.
One man to watch for is Israel Beiteinu’s chairman Avigdor Liberman, who appeared pessimistic on Sunday regarding the possibility of putting together a viable coalition. “It’s very difficult to find a common denominator here,” he said. “The ideological split is sometimes very polar, so the end result is that instead of compromise we get ‘shatnez’ (halachically unlawful hybrid between wool and linen) that doesn’t allow us to move in any direction, and it does not allow us to bring any of the changes that the people are expecting.”
Liberman said that, as far as he’s concerned, the main issue for the next government should be changing the system of government. He said the issue would be determined in the guidelines of the next government, without wasting time on various governance committees. Likud and Israel Beitenu will meet in the coming days to present an offer on this count that would be acceptable to both parties.
According to Liberman’s proposal, the head of the largest party automatically becomes prime minister. Each government will have 18 cabinet ministers and four deputy ministers. The ministers will give up their Knesset membership, to ensure the separation of powers.
The voting threshold should go up three percent, says Liberman. Removing the Prime Minister will require a special majority of 80 Knesset members, and failure to pass a budget will not dissolve the Knesset. Votes of no confidence will require 61 signatures.
All of the above proposals reflect Liberman’s mounting frustration with the workings of government over the past decade or so, as he has experienced it intimately. His notions of a solution are typically direct, if not outright brutal, favoring the larger parties at the expense of the very parties Likud-Beitenu wants to seduce into the next government: Shas and Torah Judaism. It’s no wonder, then, that he is pessimistic about the chances for an effective government.
Indeed, the new pact between the two young mavericks Lapid and Bennett has effectively created two major, right-of-center blocks: Lapid-Bennett Vs. Netanyahu-Liberman, each with exactly 31 seats. Expect Liberman to push for partnership with the other “big party” – even if it requires Netanyahu to overcome his fears of an even stronger Lapid.