In the current negotiations for the formation of the Lapid-Bennett government, it has already been decided that the basic outlines that would define this government’s agenda would be very general and won’t involve controversial issues.
A source close to the talks told Kan 11 News: “Whatever passes by this government passes – whatever doesn’t, doesn’t.”
It is doubtful that any of the MKs from Labor or Meretz have ever dreamed that one day they would be wishing that Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett succeed in forming a coalition government. The ideological gaps between the two blocs in this proposed coalition are enormous, and the disputes over a long list of political issues, as well as over matters of state and religion, are impossible to bridge.
How will the Lapid-Bennett-Sa’ar-Labor-Meretz government react should President Joe Biden press for resumption of the two-state negotiations with the PA? What will happen if Defense Minister Gideon Sa’ar decides to launch a wide-ranging military operation in the Gaza Strip in response to a massive rocket fire on Israeli civilians? Will the right-wing partners be able to allocate resources to the settlement enterprise through this government? Will this government finally evacuate the fictitious squatters’ colony Khan al-Ahmar from Israel’s Area C?
The secret of herding these many cats, according to Yair Lapid on his first appearance before the media after receiving the mandate to form a government from President Reuven Rivlin, is more an emotional poster than strategy.
“Israel is tired of quarrels and looks at the politicians, wondering when they will stop fighting and start working for them,” Lapid said, adding, “And the answer is now. Not everyone agrees, it will be a complex government but it will have a simple goal, to get us out of the crisis and especially out of the crisis within us. We won’t be able to solve any of our problems if we continue to fight.”
An anonymous senior official close to Lapid told Haaretz that “there will be clear mechanisms to settle disputes among the different parties. The rules of the game will be clear.”
The mechanisms that are supposed to save the government in moments of crisis have not yet been coordinated, but several basic understandings should guide the collaboration on a relatively peaceful path. The first is the understanding that the coalition agreement will be very sparse, and will not deal with the three disputed areas: the political sphere, changing the face of the legal system, and matters of religion and state.
In addition, Bennett and Lapid both have the power to impose a veto to stop the promotion of controversial legislation with the potential of dismantling the coalition. This is the mechanism that has proven itself in the Gantz Netanyahu government, allowing it to live past its first year.
Meanwhile, all the coalition parties will be focusing on economic matters and the rehabilitation of the Israeli economy following the corona crisis. There are quite a few areas on which they all agree, more or less. They will pass a state budget after three years without one – and immediately improve Israel’s standing in the global financial rating industry which has been making mean sounds on this very issue. Next, they must rehabilitate the education and the health systems which have been traumatized, to say the least, by the pandemic. If they even make a dent in improving all these needs, the Lapid-Bennett government should come down in history as a success story.
But there’s another reason why this coalition government will not collapse: since Lapid will be the second prime minister in the rotation, probably after two years, the left-wing parties will have no interest to dismantle the Bennett-led government because that would mean that Bennett would continue to lead the country during the fifth election campaign until the formation of the next government.
And Bennett, for his part, will do his best to use his two years as prime minister to present achievements and establish himself as a popular leader.
Labor and Meretz will undoubtedly promote an LGBTQ agenda. They may not be able to go for same-sex marriages, but they could very well promote a surrogacy law and the law banning conversion therapy.
Bennett this week called on all right-wing parties to join his coalition government and meant mainly the Haredi parties, who may seek to join the coalition to prevent the approval of the recruitment law and the conversion reform, or wait until these two laws are passed and then join in to secure the economic interests of their constituents.
If Bennett succeeds in convincing the 16 Haredi MKs to join his coalition with Lapid, he would be able to present a solid front of 29 MKs that can torpedo all the anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist attempts of the left.
Contacts between Bennett and Lapid’s negotiating teams resumed Thursday, but there are still significant disagreements between them over who gets which portfolio. Benny Gantz and Gideon Sa’ar are competing for the defense portfolio, and it appears the job would go to the former IDF chief of staff. This makes Sa’ar a key candidate on the right for the post of Justice Minister – but Ayelet Shaked also wants the job, and Lapid and his people are also demanding it, over conflicting ideological reasons: Shaked and Sa’ar are interested in appointing conservative judges to the four Supreme Court openings that will become available over the next four years; while the left wants more activist judges on the court.
Shaked is probably going to get the internal security portfolio, awarding her the thankless task of reforming the police and dealing with the rampant violence in the Arab sector. The education portfolio is being fought over by Yifat Shasha Bitton on the right and Meretz chairman and declared homosexual MK Nitzan Horowitz.
Labor chairman Merav Michaeli demands the Interior portfolio, but the right-wing factions claim it’s an ideological office and must be given to someone on their side – it’s still unclear whom.
There are also two candidates for the position of Speaker of the Knesset: Meir Cohen from Lapid’s side, and Zeev Elkin from Sa’ar.
To my ideologically-driven readers, I must note here that in my personal view Bennett and Sa’ar should not join a coalition with Lapid and the left. My purpose here was to explain how such a coalition could work despite the wide gaps between its parties.