In The News: Israeli Politics - Reelections Coming?
It's no secret that PM Netanyahu is having tremendous difficulty forming a coalition and if he is unable to do so, we could see another round of elections - and all of this comes at a time that Israel so desperately needs stability in government. How this will play out is anyone's guess, but the implications for the entire Middle East are potentially quite large.
It might sound ludicrous, but Israel could be headed for another early election just a month after the last poll, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces mounting challenges to forming a stable coalition.
That was the threat issued by senior members of Netanyahu's Likud Party this week, and they were taken seriously by at least one major party, Jewish Home, which reportedly reinstated its election campaign committee, just in case.
Netanyahu has until the middle of March (which includes a standard 14-day extension) to present a stable coalition. Should he fail to do so, either another party will be given a chance to form a government, or new elections will be called.
Earlier this week, Netanyahu scored his first coalition partner in Tzipi Livni and her six-seat party, Hatnuah (The Movement). The centrist Kadima Party, which has been reduced to a paltry two seats, is expected to join in the coming days.
All together, that gives Netanyahu 39 out of 120 seats. The ideal solution in the minds of most Israelis would be for Netanyahu to add to that total the centrist Yesh Atid and right-wing Jewish Home parties, giving the coalition a commanding 88 seats.
However, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid have forged something of an alliance, and are refusing to enter the coalition unless Netanyahu agrees to their joint demand that the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community be stripped of its exemption from serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
Bennett and Lapid also want the ultra-Orthodox to begin entering the work force in greater numbers, or risk losing their massive welfare payouts, which are provided by the government despite the fact that most ultra-Orthodox do not pay taxes.
It is a policy that would shake the existing unwritten rules of Israeli politics, and Netanyahu is presumably fearful of rocking the boat so severely.
Netanyahu has long been chummy with the ultra-Orthodox political sector, and so is looking at bringing the religious Shas Party into the coalition as an alternative to Lapid and Bennett.
Reports Thursday are that Shas is very close to joining the coalition, and the other Orthodox party, United Torah Judaism, would likely follow suit.
If that happens, and if Lapid and Bennett stick to their guns, that would give Netanyahu a minority coalition of 57 seats. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office told Israel Hayom that would be unacceptable, and would result in another election.
The idea is to put pressure on Bennett to join the coalition, even if Lapid remains outside. The main plank of Lapid's election platform was ending draft exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox, so it is extremely unlikely he would join a government that includes Shas.
If this is Netanyahu's direction, and if the gamble pays off, making Lapid the head of the opposition could be a two-edged sword. While Lapid and Netanyahu largely see eye-to-eye on security, the peace process and many economic issues, it is no secret that Lapid intends to himself become prime minister one day, and might work undermine Netanyahu and bring about, yes, another early election.
Likud-Beytenu’s coalition team met Friday with negotiators from the hardline-Orthodox Jewish Home party, and then with the ultra-Orthodox Shas, as talks on a new government continued more than a month after Knesset elections were held.
Representatives of Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party were reported to have demanded the revocation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agreement with Hatnua chief Tzipi Livni, whereby Livni joins a Likud-led coalition in exchange for the Justice Ministry portfolio and heading peace talks with the Palestinians. Bennett has been an outspoken critic of such negotiations, and his party represents a cross-section of voters who are largely opposed to a two-state solution along pre-1967 lines.
Friday’s talks ended without a formal declaration of any progress, and the Likud-Beytenu team then met with Shas’s leadership triumvirate of Aryeh Deri, Ariel Atias and Eli Yishai. Netanyahu’s key challenge is to find a formula for expanding the number of ultra-Orthodox young men entering military service; Jewish Home and Yesh Atid want almost all Haredi men to serve, while Shas and United Torah Judaism want wide-scale exemptions for full-time Torah study.
Three weeks after Shimon Peres charged Netanyahu with forming a coalition, it is this issue that has made the task so complex, and is gradually fueling speculation that Netanyahu may not be able to build a Knesset majority, though his aides remain confident he will do so.
The Jewish Home has made it clear that an alliance formed with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, according to which both parties would either join the government together or join the opposition, remains firm.
Palestinian protests in Jerusalem and the West Bank turned violent on Friday, with demonstrators throwing stones at Israeli security forces at several locations.
At the Temple Mount in the capital’s Old City, Palestinians exiting Friday prayers hurled stones at security forces stationed near the Mughrabi Gate. Israeli forces used stun grenades to disperse the protesters. There were no injuries, according to police.
In Hebron, dozens of Palestinians attacked security forces with stones in the city’s Jewish quarter.
Hundreds of protesters also gathered at the Beitunia military checkpoint near the Ofer Prison outside Ramallah, where several Palestinian inmates are on a hunger strike. Dozens of them threw stones at IDF and Border Police stationed at the post, reported Ynet.
In Nabi Saleh, also near Ramallah, security forces used live fire to disperse protesters, according to the report.
Israeli security forces were on high alert ahead of expected Palestinian protests in Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank following Friday prayers.