By Peter Reisenauer for Global Risk Insights
The Israeli Knesset approved Benjamin Netanyahu’s new coalition last Thursday by the slimmest of margins after a week of haggling that left doubt as to the future efficacy of the government.
The government is now composed of right wing and religious political parties that, combined, make up the bare-minimum majority for control of the Knesset. The makeup of the coalition will sap Netanyahu of his power due to a lack of stability in the Knesset and a need to pander to more extreme ideologies.
Due to the nature of Israeli election law, larger parties, such as Netanyahu’s Likud, must form coalitions with smaller parties to ensure a viable ruling government. For instance, Likud won the most seats in the recent election, but still only controlled one quarter of the 120 in the Knesset. Thus, Netanyahu took to backroom dealing to create a coalition viable enough to form a functioning government, and turned to the Jewish Home party along with other smaller more radical parties.
The coalition is now made up of a group dominated by pro-settler ideologues who want to limit the power of Israel’s Supreme Court and ultra-orthodox parties that want more benefits for their religious seminaries. To make matters more difficult, the former foreign minister and Netanyahu’s natural ally, Avigdor Lieberman, resigned unexpectedly days before the coalition was formed, which cost Netanyahu six more Knesset seats from Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party.
Having the bare minimum majority means that Netanyahu will be constantly required to tow the line between pushing policy and ensuring that his coalition remains happy. For instance, any agreement on the rights of the Palestinians might be enough to push Jewish Home away, and even the loss of one of the smaller ultra-orthodox parties would be enough to topple the patchwork coalition.
To ensure that he would have a functioning coalition, Netanyahu made some ministerial choices that he will likely live to regret.
Perhaps his biggest mistake lies in the appointment of Ayelet Shaked as Justice Minister and a member of the security cabinet. While the Jewish Home party is, in general known, for its more extreme viewpoints, perhaps no one is as extreme as Shaked, who has in the past called for a Palestinian genocide, saying that the entirety of the Palestinian people is the enemy, and everyone from men to women to children should be destroyed.
Opposition leaders are moving to take down Netanyahu’s government before it even starts. Isaac Herzog, the man that Netanyahu defeated to become Prime Minister, has vowed to go to war with Netanyahu’s government because of the weak coalition and Netanyahu’s attempt to pass a law allowing more than 18 ministers to satisfy all of his political promises.
It was originally hoped that Netanyahu might be able to convince Herzog to join his coalition, but the recent comments further delegitimize these claims and suggest that Netanyahu will have to look elsewhere to bolster his coalition. Moreover, the United States has lost all interest in brokering a peace deal, as Obama does not view Netanyahu as a real partner for peace.
The Palestinians are making a renewed push for recognition on the global stage at the United Nations and the International Criminal Court with their most recent support coming from Pope Francis. All of this necessitates a strong Israeli leader with a broad base of support to fight back, which is a power that Netanyahu currently lacks.
The coalition may take a toll on the Israeli economy, as well. The European Union has threatened to impose economic sanctions on the country if peace talks with the Palestinians do not resume soon. Any threat of economic sanctions could hurt an Israeli economy that grew at a disappointing 2.5% in the first quarter of 2015. This comes in the wake of a recent growth in the high tech industry in Israel, and the advent of trade relationships with countries previously unwilling to work with Israel, such as China.
If European Union sanctions are imposed and Israel’s relationship with the United States remains icy, there is serious concern over how well a tech sector that boomed in 2014 will continue to progress. Because of these international demands, Netanyahu will likely be forced to weigh serious discussions with his coalition about a Palestinian state and ensuring a stable economy.
Netanyahu made it clear during the run up to the election that there would be no Palestinian state while he was Prime Minister, though he backed away from this absolute rejection of the two-state solution when asked about it again after his reelection. Unfortunately, Netanyahu’s new coalition may not give him the chance to demonstrate his commitment to the peace process.
With a shaky grasp on control of the Knesset and a need to pander to the more extreme elements in Israel, Netanyahu may not have much power at all.