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Post-Election Horse-Trading Kicks Off as Netanyahu Builds Israel’s “National No Opposition” Government

Post-Election Horse-Trading Kicks Off as Netanyahu Builds Israel’s “National No Opposition” Government

Post-Election Horse-Trading Kicks Off as Netanyahu Builds Israel’s “National No Opposition” Government
April 17
17:18 2019

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL — The president of the state of Israel is arguably the most insignificant and unimpressive position on earth. The post was created as a pasture into which to send aging politicians who have become irrelevant but are still in need of a position. The role is void of any consequence — so much so, in fact, that one is reminded of the Roman Emperor Caligula, who made his horse a senator. This is sadly true of all the men who have held this position, including my own great-uncle Zalman Shazar who, as the third president of Israel, was known to be a great orator who said nothing.

This dubious honor is today held by former Israeli politician Reuven, or Rubi, Rivlin. He comes from a revisionist, right-wing Zionist ideology and as a politician has made absolutely no significant contribution.


Post-Israeli elections

Just about every four years, or whenever Israel holds elections, people are reminded that Israel has a president. This is because one of his only duties is to call upon the person who heads the party that won the largest number of seats in the 120-seat Knesset, and hand him or her the task of assembling a government. In a parliamentary system, the head of the party that wins a majority or the largest number of seats in the parliament becomes prime minister, so why this formality is required is a mystery — but there it is.

This person then has 28 days and can request an additional 14 days if needed in which to do the job, utilizing whatever horse-trading skills he or she may have to put together a coalition. Should this person fail, the president will then hand this responsibility to the head of the second largest party, and so on until such time that a government has been assembled that can receive the votes of more than half of the members of Knesset, meaning a minimum of sixty plus one.


A National Unity government

In the history of Israeli politics, the first national unity government was formed by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol on June 1, 1967, on the eve of the 1967 war. The two following governments formed by Golda Meir were also national unity governments.

Under Benjamin Netanyahu, there have been many “national unity” governments in which everyone can find a home, with the exception of the Palestinian Knesset members.

The reasoning for creating a “national unity” government is always the same: the nation is facing challenging times that demand we cast our differences aside and work together for the good of the people. Then all the prime minister has to do is create cabinet positions for everyone involved, appointing a few ministers without portfolio — yes, that is an actual thing, like a Secretary of Nothing in Particular — and everyone is happy. Prime Minister Netanyahu holds the record for the largest number of cabinet members in the history of Israeli governments.

President Rivlin already announced that he plans to ask the heads of the two leading parties, Netanyahu and Benny Gantz to sit together and form such a government. This, of course, will work well for everyone involved: Netanyahu not only remains in his seat but his government will have a majority with 76 seats. Add to that a few of the smaller parties who were loyal to him and now will claim their prizes in the way of cabinet seats, and he could have a majority of over 80. This means that the government has only a very small, fragmented opposition. Of course, this was going to be the outcome anyway, even without the inspiring announcement of President Rivlin.


Horse-trading begins

Clearly positioning his party for the horse trading that is an inevitable part of the post-election period in Israel, senior Kahol Lavan Party member and former military chief Gabi Ashkenazi, after officially recommending Gantz for prime minister, told Rivlin that “under the current political circumstances, we won’t be able to serve” in a Netanyahu-led government.

According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, without its major rival, and with only representatives who have already declared loyalty to him, Netanyahu is ensured a safe 65-seat majority, provided that all of them get what they want. Avigdor Lieberman, for example, who resigned from the post of Defense Minister last year, now demands it again as a condition to join the coalition and support Netanyahu. Lieberman knows, however, that he brings only five members to the table, while Gantz — who will without a doubt demand the defense portfolio as a condition to join the coalition, and is a former IDF chief and therefore a more likely candidate for the job — brings 35.


How long will it take?

While the horse trading never really ends, Netanyahu can form a coalition in the time allotted to him by law — 28 days plus a 14-day extension, for a total of 42 days. The only question is how long will it take the leader of Kahol Lavan to capitulate and support Netanyahu. One cannot doubt that the minister’s chair at the Israeli Defense Department in Tel-Aviv is far more attractive for Benny Gantz than that of a member of the opposition in the Knesset chamber.

Top photo | Likud party ballot papers and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign fliers are seen on the ground after polls for Israel’s general elections closed in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 10, 2019. Ariel Schalit | AP

Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

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