Unpack With YUPAC: Coalition of the Willing: A Look at Bibi's Path Toward Forming a Government
For the past few weeks, Israel has been on the cusp of something that has eluded it for the better part of three years: a stable coalition government. True, Israel has had a government for the past year, but the coalition’s makeup was ideologically incompatible and was primarily driven by opposition to former and now Prime Minister-elect Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu.
Generally, coalitions are built on some balanced mix of ideological similarity and pragmatic deal-making and at the very least some shared aspirations; the former government led by Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, which comprised parties ranging from the far-left to the hard right, had none of that. Now, after a relatively brief stint as the opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu has cobbled together enough seats to form a coalition.
Israeli politics, in terms of governance, is different from American governance in many respects but two are particularly salient here. For one, Israel doesn’t really have separation of powers; in other words, the party or coalition of parties that control the executive branch also maintains a majority in the legislature. Secondly, unlike in America where there are two major political parties, Israel has many political parties, and no one party has ever by itself assembled the requisite 61 seats for a government, thereby necessitating coalition governments.
One key feature to note is that this government will be the most Orthodox-oriented government in Israeli history. The only not explicitly religious party in the government will be Bibi’s, the Likud party, which is the largest party in the Knesset and sees itself as the standard-bearer of the Israeli Right. Bibi, after the election, has two blocs of natural partners which allow him to get the requisite 61 seats. The first are the ultra-religious parties, namely Shas, which represents Sephardic religious interests, and United Torah Judaism, which represents the Ashkenazic Haredi and Hasidic populations. These parties are generally nominally against the Israeli secular state but are willing to accede to the extent that they can support their religious infrastructure. The second bloc comprises the national-religious parties, which represent another faction of the religious community in Israel which is much more sympathetic to the Israeli secular state and extreme on issues pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This will also be one of the most right-wing governments Israel has ever seen. They have a number of shared policy items that will be high on the agenda if they form a government. They all have a shared antagonism toward the Israeli judiciary, seeing its influence as too far-reaching, and they will be introducing a series of bills to roll back its power. For another, Bibi’s religious parties are extremely concerned about the reforms to the kashrut certification process and the general rolling-back of the authority of the Orthodox rabbinate that the Lapid-Bennett government legislated and they will try to swiftly roll them back.
The ultra-Orthodox parties will attempt to lobby to increase subsidies for Kollel families and yeshivas. The national-religious bloc, comprised of politicians like far-right Member of Knesset Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, will advocate for expanding the Israeli presence in the West Bank. All of these policies will further the growing divide between the mainstream Reform and Conservative streams of the American Jewish community, who already feel increasingly marginalized in an increasingly Orthodox-dominated political sphere, in addition to Israel’s rightward shift which has contrasted sharply with the overall liberal bent of the American Jewish community. American Jewish leaders have decried the inclusion of these far-right politicians in the Israeli government, taking drastic steps like publicly criticizing Israel’s government formation.
There is one major roadblock to the actual formation of the government. One of the most contentious issues in coalition politics is the issue of cabinet post allocation. Prime Minister-elect Netanyahu is having major difficulty negotiating with his partners on how their government will be technically formed. There was a lot of gridlock regarding post allocation, but some deals have been made recently that have advanced the process. Likud and Shas have reached a deal whereby Shas will receive a number of ministries including the health and interior ministries. Another recent development is Bibi’s deal with Religious Zionist MK Itamar Ben-Gvir and his Otzma Yehudit party (this is not a contradiction, as Ben-Gvir’s party is an independent subset of the wider Religious Zionist bloc). Ben-Gvir will head the newly formed National Security Ministry, a reformation of the current Public Security Ministry with the new inclusion of additional security divisions related to the West Bank. Ben-Gvir will have a lot of power to shape the Netanyahu government’s policy regarding Israel’s administration of the contentious West Bank. Furthermore, Ben-Gvir’s party will receive the Negev and Galilee Ministry and the heritage ministry. Bibi signed another deal with Avi Maoz, the leader of the far-right Noam party and fellow Religious Zionist bloc member. He, as his faction’s lone Knesset member, will head a to-be-formed “Jewish Identity” authority. Coalition negotiations are far from over, as many other key partners like other Religious Zionist MK Bezalel Smotrich and UTJ are yet to receive their postings.
This wouldn’t be the first time Bibi seemingly had a coalition in the bag and then failed to reach agreements with his partners. In fact, that was the reason Israel has gone through five different elections in the past three years. That said, this coalition seems very likely to happen, and as the Middle East is wont to do, it will be a show-stopper to the finish.
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Photo Caption: Bibi Netanyahu will almost certainly take back his seat as Prime Minister of Israel
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons