The expected presentation next week of Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is likely to intensify pressure on Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni to join his coalition or face defections, according to political analysts.
Livni insisted in an interview with Israeli media that she would not sit “in a government in which I am a permanent minority,” but Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, said he heard that refrain before.
“How many speeches were made by the Labor Party and its leader [Ehud Barak] saying they were going into the opposition,” he said. “Although 42 percent of the party took that seriously, 68 percent didn’t and that’s why they voted to join the government” on Tuesday.
“If Netanyahu forms a government within the next 10 days,” Steinberg continued, “there will be a lot of pressure on Livni to join him, particularly if a crisis develops over Iran, or if there are tensions with the Obama administration, or over the economy or if Lieberman is indicted and has to resign.”
He was referring to Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party who is expected to be the next foreign minister. He is under police investigation for alleged money laundering.
Mordechai Kedar, a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said that although Livni might be forced by her own party to join the coalition government, “there is a real possibility that Netanyahu will bribe some Kadima members to split [from] the party.”
But Tamir Sheaffer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s political science department said defections would be tough.
“According to a new law, you have to have at least one-third of the party going with you,” he explained.
Netanyahu had talks scheduled with two smaller rightwing parties this week to add to his coalition that also includes the rightwing Shas Party. But the addition of Labor to the coalition eliminates the possibility of a narrow rightwing government.
Many Labor Party leaders said they would refuse to join the coalition and it was unclear at midweek how many of the Labor Party’s 13 Knesset members would join.
Barak defended his decision to join the coalition, telling party members after Tuesday’s vote: “Anyone who thinks that it is wiser to build the Labor Party as a fifth wheel in the opposition and not as a counter-force to the right-wing elements in the government doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
“I am not afraid of Benjamin Netanyahu,” he continued. “I won’t serve as a fig leaf to anyone, and I won’t be anyone’s dead weight. We will be the counter-force that will prevent the formation of a narrow right-wing government, and ensure the establishment of a real government that will take care of the Israeli people.”
But Kedar described the coalition as a “supermarket government in which anybody can be satisfied – the right because of Lieberman and the left because of Barak. I just hope Netanyahu will have the ability and the saychal [wisdom] to tie the horses in a way so that it will not break the wagon because it seems now as if the wagon is being pulled in different directions.”
Sheaffer agreed, saying it is a “weird coalition” that has offered different things to its constituent parts.
“When Netanyahu was campaigning, he promised that under his command no settler would be evacuated from his home,” he said. “But in his coalition agreement with Labor, he said he is going to enforce the law on illegal settlements. That was also the coalition agreement in the current government but the number of illegal settlements that were evacuated was zero. … This doesn’t mean that the new government will be unstable, but the ideological gaps are quite large.”
Steinberg said he believes Netanyahu will have better luck at taking down the illegal outposts than the current centrist government. He noted that Barak, who would stay on as defense minister in the new government, has been pushing for the dismantling of illegal outposts but did not receive the political support he needed. And taking this step would also be viewed favorably by the Obama administration, preventing an Israeli-U.S. crisis at the beginning of both government’s reign.
Steinberg said Lieberman would not object to the decision because it is consistent with a two-state solution that Lieberman supports. And such a move would increase Barak’s standing in his own party “because those who were against him said he would be going along with Netanyahu’s political agenda. They would now have to admit they were wrong.”