After barely winning reelection Jan. 23, 63-year-old Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu reached across multiple political aisles to former political foe 54-year-old former Kadima Party and now Hatunah Party boss Tzipi Livni. Making Tzipi, a former Foreign Minister, his new Justice Minister, Bibi hopes to build a governing coalition that so far eluded him. Blaming it on a “boycott” by the nationalist Jewish Home and centrist Yesh Atid parties, Netanyahu hopes to convince all parties—including the ultra-orthodox Shas Party—to join a broad coalition to govern Israel. So far, the Jewish Home and Yesh Atid parties have refused to join Netanyahu’s government because of Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist Foreign Minister 54-year-old Avigdor Lieberman. Jewish Home and Yesh Atid parties want Nentayahu to end draft exemptions for ultra-orthodox seminary students.
When Netanyahu first ran against Tzipi in 2009, he shunned her Kadima Party after partnering with Lieberman’s ultra-nationalist Shas Party. Coming full circle, Netanyahu’s scrambling to find anyone to join his right wing coalition. Netanyahu’s new survival strategy involves placating the Jewish Home and Yesh Atid parties, insisting ultra-orthodox seminary students no longer get exemptions from military service while studying Torah. With Livni joining forces, Netanyahu has the best shot of cobbling together enough Knesset seats to achieve a governing coalition. Walking a tightrope with Lieberman’s ultra-nationalist Shas Party, Netanyahu must count on his Foreign Minister to make sure his Party doesn’t break ranks. Taking a swipe at the pro-settler Jewish Home Party, Bibi said it serves no one to boycott the government for a narrow political agenda.
Israel faces daunting domestic and foreign policy challenges, especially Netanyahu’s campaign to de-fang Iran from what looks like its feverish pursuit of A-bombs. While denied by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has made it clear Iran has no intention—no matter what the U.N. sanctions—of stopping its nuclear enrichment program. To govern effectively and prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, Netanyahu must have the backing of the Israeli people. “Who should understand this more than anyone is the settler population in Judea and Samaria, which experience boycotts on a daily basis,” said Netanyahu, urging the Jewish Home and Yesh Atid parties to get onboard. Netanyahu believes his unwaivering stand allowing more construction in the West Bank has earned him support of pro-settler parties.
Struggling since winning the election Jan. 23, Netanyahu’s Likud-Yisrael Beitenu bloc only got 31 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, needing 30 more seats to have a governable parliament. Adding Livni’s former Kadima support and current Hatunah Party paves the way for Bibi to eventually take charge. He needs 30 seats to have the 61-seat governing coalition needed. Unlike other Israeli leaders, Netanyahu’s trusted best for national defense, something tested when Gaza began firing missiles into Israel Nov. 14. Netanyahu’s bold missile attack that killed Hamas bomb-maker Yahwa Ayyash Nov. 13 prompted the latest Hamas missile attacks that lasted nearly a week. When Israel’s under attack, national opinion polls show confidence in Bibi’s national security credentials. With Livni joined Bibi’s Cabinet, it’s just a matter of time before he gets the 30 extra seats.
Last week, Netanyahu appointed Tzipi as Justice Minister and chief peace negotiator with Palestinians. Her long peace-making history should help Bibi move his government more toward the center. While appointing Livni was a shrewd move, it antagonized the pro-settler Jewish Home Party that refuses to halt building in the West Bank. Jewish Home Party opposes Livni for her opposition to continued building in the Palestinian territories. If the 54-year-old Tzipi plays her cards right, she’ll set herself up as frontrunner to eventually replace Netanyahu. Should she emerge as prime minister in four years, her views would be right in line with Hillary Rodham Clinton, should she decide to seek the White House in 2016. Unlike Netanyahu that shows more skepticism about a Palestinian state, Tzipi’s willing to make compromises for a comprehensive two-state solution.
Thrashing around in limbo, Bibi finds himself in the no man’s land without sufficient seats for a governing coalition. With enough concessions, Bibi should convince the Jewish Home and Yesh Atid parties to make the compromises to join a coherent governing coalition. Netanyahu will have to lean on his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to win concessions from the ultra-nationalist Shas Party. Making concessions to the pro-settler Jewish Home Party and Yesh Atid Parties should secure Bibi enough seats in the Knesset for a working government. Given Tzipi’s keen political instincts, she’ll do everything possible to apply as much leverage as possible to bring aboard the Jewish Home and Yesh Atid parties. Netanyahu just needs to sit back and let the ever-garrulous Tzipi work her magic to eventually pull together enough Knesset votes for a workable coalition.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.