In my previous post, I discussed the four blocs of parties in Israeli politics and how this simplifies a complex system in which 34 parties are running.
But what does all this mean for Israel’s government? Who will form the government? Who becomes Prime Minister? Who becomes a minister in the government? How do 12 or 14 parties run a country?
Forming a coalition
Following the election, the President (Shimon Peres) gets to perform one of his only formal duties: he asks the party leader with the best chances to form a coalition. In order to form a coalition, the party leader must engage in negotiations with the other parties and gather a group of parties representing at least 61 members of Knesset.
Usually, the party leader with the best chances and the leader of the largest party are one and the same. However, the previous election proved the exception:
Tzipi Livni was the leader of the largest party, Kadima, with 28 seats. However, she was unable to gather enough support to form a coalition and the task was given to Binyamin Netanyahu, leader of Likud, with 27 seats, who succeeded in forming a coalition with five other parties: Yisrael Beiteinu (15), Labor (13), Shas (11), Yahadut HaTorah (5) and the Jewish Home (3). The coalition was comprised of a total of 74 MKs.
Assuming the election results are similar to results predicted in the polls, Likud (together with Yisrael Beiteinu) will be the largest party by far and will be asked first to form a coalition.
Who joins the coalition?
Negotiations between the parties in order to form a coalition usually include two aspects: policies and government positions. Likud Beiteinu will enter negotiations with the various parties in order to reach agreements over the policies of the new government. They will also negotiate over the different governmental positions to be occupied. The larger a party, the more weight it holds in the negotiations, and the more governmental positions it can demand. Many of the ministries today exist as a result of the leading party needing more bargaining chips to offer its partners in the coalition.
The first natural partner for a coalition led by Likud-Beiteinu will be Naftali Bennet’s Jewish Home party, being the closest party to Likud-Beiteinu ideologically. The Jewish Home is expected to receive 10-15 seats according to polls. But Likud-Beiteinu and Jewish Home together will most likely not have 61 seats.
The Ultra Orthodox parties almost always join the coalition. By doing so, they allow the leading party (be it Labor on the Left or Likud on the Right) to stick to their ideology without having to form a partnership with the other. In return, the Ultra Orthodox community receives non-interference from the government, by way of not enlisting Yeshiva boys in the IDF, non-interference in the Ultra-Orthodox education system, governmental support of Yeshivas, etc. Together, the Ultra Orthodox parties (Shas and Yahadut Hatorah) are expected to receive 15-17 seats. The Ultra Orthodox parties are also somewhat Right leaning on diplomatic and security issues, and are therefore relatively easy to live with in a rightwing coalition.
If Rabbi Haim Amsalem’s party, “Am Shalem” gets into the Knesset, it will also, most likely, join a coalition led by Netanyahu. Polls predict 0-3 seats for the party.
However, Netanyahu will most likely strive for a wider coalition, and will attempt to enlist either Tzipi Livni’s “Movement” or Yair Lapid’s “Yesh Atid”. Both parties are Left leaning, but not as far Left as Labor. If one of the two joins the coalition, Netanyahu will have more than 70, perhaps 75, Knesset seats on his side. Such a wide coalition means he will have an easy time passing policy in the Knesset. Adding one of the two “center” parties will also help diffuse the rightwing image of a government formed by most of the Rightwing bloc. There have been rumors of secret negotiations already being held with Tzipi Livni’s “Movement”.
If Netanyahu succeeds in forming a coalition within the allotted time, he will become Israel’s next Prime Minister.
The parties in the coalition must agree on a joint general policy for the next four years, but they must also agree on the distribution of the government ministries. This is where politicians’ egos come into action, with each party clamoring for the most prestigious ministries in order to appease the appetites of the MKs egos.
Likud-Beiteinu has said that they intend to keep the three most important ministries, the Finance, Defense and Foreign ministries, within the party.
The Jewish Home will most likely ask for the Education Ministry.
Shas always asks for the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
The Jewish Home may also ask for the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
Yahadut Hatorah never requests posts of ministers, but rather of deputy ministers. This is because many in the Ashkenazi Ultra Orthodox community, represented by Yahadut Hatorah, feel that it is a sin to take part in the ZionistState. As a compromise, the party’s members serve as deputy ministers, having power but not responsibility.
Yair Lapid has expressed his wish to be Minister of Education, if he joins the coalition.
As a result of this haggling, governments over the years have created more and more positions in order to appease coalition partners. There are over 30 ministers and deputy ministers in the current government.
Who will not join the coalition?
The Arab parties have never joined the coalition. This is partly because they see themselves as an opposition to any Israeli government, and partly because the Jewish population also sees them as such. Making important decisions for the future of the Jewish people with the support of the Arab parties would be seen as illegitimate if they would not have passed without Arab support (for instance, the Oslo accords). However, there have been Arab ministers in the past, who were members of other parties.
The far-Right party, “Otzma LeYisrael” (Strong Israel), if they get into the Knesset, will also not join any coalition, which will be seen by them as too far Left (they would, for instance, leave the government if it attempted to make any steps toward founding a Palestinian state).
Meretz, a small party to the Left of Labor, would not join a government led by the Rightwing Likud. Labor is also unlikely to join a government led by Likud, although there have been precedents.
To sum things up: assuming Likud-Beiteinu receives 30+ seats and is the party to form the government, it will have a choice of the following parties as partners for a coalition: Jewish Home (Naftali Bennet), Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid), The Movement (Tzipi Livni), Shas (Sephardic Ultra Orthodox), Yahadut Hatorah (Ashkenazi Ultra Orthodox), Am Shalem (Rabbi Haim Amsalem) and Labor.
Coalition vs. Government
I have used the two terms, coalition and government, interchangeably in this post. To clarify, the coalition is the group of parties which form the government. The coalition must have at least 61 seats. The government is the group of ministers, who are also members of the coalition. The opposition is the group of parties which are not in the coalition. The coalition must act in cohesion in order to survive, while the parties of the opposition do not have any obligations to each other.
Ministers are almost always also Members of Knesset, but are not required to be MKs. For instance, the Justice Ministers for the past two terms have not been MKs (Daniel Friedman and Yaacov Ne’eman).
Questions? Feel free to ask. I will do my best to answer.
Read previous updates on the Israeli elections:
The Labor Party and the Center (Dec 4th)
Rollercoaster Politics (Nov 28th, 2012)
This Sunday (11.11)- Primaries in Meretz (Nov 9th)
Speculation (Nov 2nd)
What’s new on the Israeli election front? (Oct 21st)
Israeli General Election this January (Oct 10th)
Also, this might help figure out the different Israeli parties:
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