Nothing is final yet, but Prime Minister–designate Binyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will present his government and cabinet ministers to the Knesset next week. The parties that have joined him are: Yisrael Beiteinu, the immigrant party led by Avigdor Lieberman, who is a former Kahanist and convicted criminal currently under investigation for more crimes; Labor led by Ehud Barak; Shas, the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party; and Jewish Home, which might as well go back to calling itself the National Religious Party, since that's what it is.
So the big question is this: Who will bolt this government first? How will it be brought down?
First let's count up the seats that Bibi's government will encompass: Likud (27 mandates), Yisrael Beiteinu (15), Labor (13), Shas (11), and Jewish Home (3) give Bibi a 69-seat government — not a wide margin, but not too slim either. He can lose Jewish Home and still stay in power, so let's remove them from the equation first, i.e., let us state affirmatively: It does not matter (at least not for right now) whether Jewish Home stays in the government or not, at least w/r/t whether the government fails or not.
So what scenarios does that leave us? Let's look at the parties themselves and what is likely to cause them to bolt, because any party that leaves this Likud-led coalition will bring down the government
- Yisrael Beiteinu: Already there are big problems here. Lieberman, an epic racist, has reportedly been promised the foreign ministry. This is a reasonable demand as a key junior coalition member and deputy prime minister. The problem is how well other countries will regard Lieberman. In an earlier diary, I discussed this at some length.
Another problem entails other ministries that Bibi apparently promised Lieberman, such as (reportedly) justice, homeland security, and the constitution committee. First of all, the Movement for Quality Government is challenging any move that would give high-profile portfolios to Lieberman or his party. To quote Haaretz:
The group said the appointment is unreasonable given that Lieberman is under criminal investigation on suspicion of bribery, fraud, breach of trust, money-laundering and falsifying corporate documents.
Furthemore, Barak apparently intends to request the constitution committee for Labor.
This leaves the question: If Lieberman gets no ministries out of supporting Bibi, then why support him?
- Labor: The skinny on Barak throwing his party into Bibi's coalition is that this "Commando Coalition" (Barak was once Bibi's superior officer in an elite Israeli commando unit) would be dedicated to a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That dog has been shown not to hunt, since Barak with a center-left government couldn't accomplish a final status agreement and he offered a pretty good deal at Taba.
The other skinny, perhaps the skinnier of the two, is that Barak is supporting Bibi to go after Iran at some point. This is perhaps true.
But our issue here is this: What will make Barak, the defense minister apparent, bolt this coalition? Frankly, nothing will. The real question, rather, is whether Labor will hold together. This, too, I wrote about in an earlier diary. There is a strong anti-Barak faction within the party. This gives rise to two scenarios: (1) Barak could be ousted as Labor head and quit the party; this would place a Palestinian issue on which Bibi stalls or fails as the key reason Labor without Barak would leave the coalition. (2) The other scenarios are that Labor without Barak bolts entirely (and the government falls) or Labor splits and Bibi loses his margin, perhaps down to 63 seats — perhaps fewer. Then Jewish Home holds the cards (yes, we counted them out, but we can't do that with a rump Labor party in the coalition) and starts making loud squeaking noises against any agreement with the Palestinians.
To put it more succinctly: Labor minus the anti-Barak members equal Jewish Home as a coalition member with inordinate power to influence policy. Same goes for National Union, should they join the coalition.
- Shas: The smart money is always on Shas taking its ball and running when it doesn't get its way and being the first party to leave a coalition. The question, rather, is what they will demand and how difficult will it be to deliver. The Shas third rail is the Tal Law, but neither Bibi as Prime Minister nor Barak as defense minister is likely to touch that. Should a rump Labor party emerge as a coalition member, then some demand by Shas, which at that point would have more MKs, could bring down the government. But for now, at least from this vantage point, Shas appears to be the most stable element in the current government.
And note: Should United Torah Judaism be brought into the government before it's presented or even later on, they will stay on as long as the Tal Law isn't touched.
- Likud: Are there enough anti-Bibi elements within the Likud to take down his government? Probably not. But it's worth considering in the "rump Labor" scenario. A split in Likud not unlike that occasioned by Ariel Sharon's disengagement from Gaza is possible if Bibi capitulates something — indeed, anything — to the Palestinians.
I'm going to post a poll for the first time on this one. So please vote.