Task of forming broad coalition unlikely to be easy for PM
Winning the election might turn out to be the easy part for prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu: cobbling together a working coalition will require all his significant political skills.
In the final days of the campaign Netanyahu urged voters to cast their ballots for his Likud Beiteinu list, arguing that political stability required one large dominant party at the centre of the next coalition.
He wasn’t wrong. However, the public, foreseeing that Netanyahu would in any event be the next prime minister, preferred instead to vote for a plethora of smaller sectoral parties.
The new Likud Beiteinu list won only 31 seats, according to TV exit polls, compared to a combined total of 42 for Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu in the outgoing Knesset.
Netanyahu will not contemplate forming a narrow coalition based solely on the 61 seats projected for the right-wing and religious parties.
He has to aim at forming a broad-based coalition which includes Yair Lapid’s There is a Future and at least another centrist party.
Last night the first phone call Netanyahu made was to Lapid. Netanyahu told him there was now an opportunity “to do big things for the good of the country”.
Lapid said during the campaign that he would not be a “fig leaf” for a right-wing, religious extremist government.
It is difficult to envisage Lapid joining a coalition that does not also include either Labor or Tzipi Livni’s The Movement.
Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich promised not to join a Netanyahu-led government, but that was during the campaign. Lapid also said that any coalition he joined must end the exemptions from military service for the ultra-Orthodox and must commit to resuming peace talks with the Palestinians.
Such demands will not go down well with the right-wing and religious elements Netanyahu will want in his government.
A large proportion of the new Likud Knesset members are ideologically opposed to the idea of a Palestinian state, even though Netanyahu publicly endorsed the two-state solution in 2009.
Jewish Home advocates annexing most of the West Bank, and its leader, Naftali Bennett, who served in the same elite army unit as Netanyahu, has stated that he would refuse an order to evict settlers from their homes.
Netanyahu will also have to win the support of potential coalition partners for an austerity budget involving massive cuts.
And overshadowing all other issues is Netanyahu’s number one priority – preventing Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb.
This may turn out to be the one issue that no amount of deliberately ambiguous wording of coalition agreements can fudge.
The window of opportunity is closing fast and Netanyahu will need to know that coalition partners will back a universal strike by Israel, if and when all other options are exhausted.
The last thing Netanyahu needs at this juncture is domestic political instability.
Yesterday’s election results were Netanyahu’s worst nightmare.