A journalist can gather a lot of information strolling along Knesset corridors, stopping by offices, lingering outside the Knesset beit knesset, and sipping coffee in the Knesset cafeteria.
Earlier this week, a reliable source in the Knesset building told The Jewish Press, “If the prime minister has been under pressure in the past, it was just training for the torture he is enduring right now trying to put together a new, workable coalition.”
Given the many conflicting demands from his potential coalition partners, Netanyahu has requested and received another two weeks from Israeli President Rivlin to complete the almost superhuman task of forming a new government. Agudat Yisrael, for example, said the source, is very upset over the Chillul Shabbat surrounding the Eurovision song contest and is even threatening to join the opposition in accordance with orders from the Gerrer Rebbe.
Our source reports that United Torah Judaism has presented Netanyahu with a long list of demands guaranteeing the government’s safeguarding of Shabbat in exchange for its backing. Needless to say, Netanyahu has been through similar scenarios with the charedim in the past and, like a Rebbe who works wonders, he is sure to find a solution to the current imbroglio.
Avigdor Lieberman, meanwhile, a champion of secularism, is insisting that the Draft Law he formulated not be amended to favor charedi yeshiva students; he is also demanding that he be appointed Minister of Defense, a job he quit a half year ago to protest Netanyahu’s (lackluster in his view) response to Gazan rocket attacks.
Israelis made it clear in this election that they want a real rightest government, he says, not a government of emotional Zionist speeches and compromise.
No stranger to coalition intrigues, Yair Sherki, Channel 12’s correspondent for Religious Affairs, and a political analyst for the newspaper B’Sheva, told The Jewish Press that he believes Lieberman really has his eyes on some other position, possibly Minister of Foreign Affairs, a title he held in the past. Sherki explained:
“When Lieberman resigned as minister of defense over Bibi’s concessions to Hamas, he termed the cabinet’s policy, ‘a surrendering to terror.’ After the recent wave of rocket attacks, he kept silent. Apparently, he learned that as defense minister he will always have to bow down to Netanyahu’s decisions. Why should he put himself once again into the same no-win situation?
“He knows there is no way the final coalition agreement will include his stipulation to wipe out Hamas and conquer Gaza. Either he will settle for a different top position, and squeeze out of Bibi as many key cabinet ministries and committee heads as he can for his own party, or he will join the opposition, a possibility that Netanyahu will try to prevent at all cost, since, without Lieberman’s support, he doesn’t have the 61 votes he needs to control the Knesset.”
Netanyahu is also having a hard time with Bezalel Smotrich of the United Right, who has rejected his offer of the Ministry of Internal Security with additional wide-ranging powers over the Judea and Samaria Civil Authority, which would facilitate increased settlement building and pave the way for the declaration of Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.
Smotrich also wants the Justice Department to neuter its judicial power over Knesset decisions. Our Knesset source explained that Netanyahu deeply fears a government with the “radical” Smotrich as justice minister, not wanting to go down in history as the prime minister who “undermined” Israel’s democratic system. The young settler, Smotrich, a savvy politician in his own right, insists that he either be appointed Minister of Justice or there will be no coalition.
“In Smotrich’s case,” our source said, “it isn’t just jockeying for more power in the government. He believes he is the right person to strip Israel’s Supreme Court of its almost dictatorial power. But the United Right will give in to Bibi’s passionate nationalistic appeals in the end, like they always do. Deep at heart, they are all nice hesder yeshiva boys, placing their love for the country over everything else. For them, toppling a rightest government is as forbidden as violating one of the Ten Commandments.”
As for the Finance Ministry, Netanyahu has no problem with the demand of Moshe Kahlon of the Kulanu Party to remain its head, but, considering that all other parties are requesting bigger budgets for their portfolios, Kahlon’s stipulation that tax levels not rise presents a balancing act that even a skilled juggler like Bibi will find hard to pull off without dropping a baton or two.
In the past, Netanyahu’s sack of surprises has included bringing political rivals like Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni into his governments, but I didn’t hear any rumors that Netanyahu may turn to the large Blue and White Party to form a joint government to bypass his troubles with his more natural partners on the right.
And then there’s the Likud Party itself. In this week’s Jewish Press, Moti Yogev of the Jewish Home Party explains that Bibi is under heavy fire from his own party elite. Having to divide up the cabinet pie into so many pieces, there are only a few tasty slices left for the Likud’s top echelon.
But greedy as each longtime Likudnik may be, no one – not even Gideon Sa’ar – will dare throw a monkey wrench in the wheels of the emerging coalition and undermine their perennial ticket to power. Bibi will emerge the victor – as always.