I’ve criticised Australian politicians for the way that they always rush back to work after an election instead of stepping back a bit, having a short break and taking the time to get things right before the new parliament meets. But Israel offers an example of the opposite extreme.
The Israeli election was on 22 January, but only now, seven and a half weeks later, has Benjamin Netanyahu been able to put together a new government. It’s expected to be sworn in on Monday.
The final steps in the process followed the outline I gave two weeks ago: the centrist Yesh Atid and the hard-right Jewish Home held fast to their alliance, so Netanyahu agreed to take both of them and ditch the two ultra-orthodox parties. Yesh Atid’s leader Yair Lapid will be finance minister and Naftali Bennett, of Jewish Home, will be economic and trade minister.
Netanyahu himself is to take foreign affairs while his other key ally, Yisrael Beitenu’s Avigdor Lieberman, is tied up with legal problems, and the remaining partner, Tzipi Livni (the only vaguely progressive voice in the coalition), will be justice minister.
Between them, the new governing parties will command 68 of the 120 seats in the parliament (or Knesset). One of the measures they are said to have agreed on is a move to raise the electoral threshold for the next election (from 2% to 4%), which at this election would have netted them about another nine seats (although of course in practice the opposing parties would reduce its effect by changing their behavior).
Despite its majority, the new government – like most Israeli governments – is something of a mixed bag, so its survival for the full term is by no means guaranteed. The BBC’s Yolande Knell judges it “unlikely that this coalition will be as stable as the last one”. Nonetheless, the primary concession that brought Lapid and Bennett within the tent, namely winding back the privileges of the ultra-orthodox, is electorally popular.
Whatever fine words it might use to Barack Obama when he visits next week, this is fundamentally an anti-peace government. Although Livni has been promised a resumption of talks with the Palestinians, there is no way that her new partners will ever support even the minimum concessions that Palestinian representatives could possibly accept. The window of opportunity for a two-state solution, if it exists, appears to be closing.
Haaretz‘s editorial is trenchant but compelling:
But as much as the new Netanyahu government might long for change domestically, its foreign policy is a concern. The right wing will enjoy a clear majority in the cabinet and in the ministries in charge of planning and construction in the West Bank; defense, housing, interior and economy have been given over to the settlers and their political allies.
This portends a concerted effort to expand the settlements and deepen the creeping annexation of the West Bank. Such policies will thwart the two-state solution, worsen Israel’s international isolation and perpetuate the conflict. Lip service on “renewing talks” will not conceal the harmful facts on the ground. …
The ministers from Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and [Jewish Home] are bad news for the state’s relationship with the Arab minority and the protection of democracy, freedom of speech and protest.
No political leader in Australia or the US would dare give voice to such sentiments, but the most prestigious newspaper in Israel has no such restraints.