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Unlikely Coalition

26 February 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Israeli PM Ariel Sharon has apparently formed a 68 member government, of a liking not expected by anyone.  The Likud took in Shinui and the National Religious Party for a total of 61 seats in the 120 man Knesset.  That was enough for a government and discussed here in the last column.  It is a strange combination but Shinui and the NRP worked out their differences over state and religion and Tommy Lapid’s radical secular program will not be implemented although there will be reforms. 

Shinui supports the Herzliya platform outlined by Sharon in Dec. 2002 for a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians leading to a demilitarized, truncated Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza while the NRP is steadfast in its opposition to such and entity.  But now Avigdor Leiberman and his right wing National Union – Yisrael Beitainu party have entered the coalition and are even more steadfast in their objections to a Palestinian state.  Furthermore Sharon’s Likud party is split on the issue.  To bridge the gap the whole issue has been put off for the future.  Any political direction to be taken with the Palestinians is first to be discussed by the cabinet.  Sharon’s Herzliya outline is not part of the coalition platform.

Should pressures for negotiations become serious and the Palestinians meet the prerequisites of putting down terrorism and implementing political and financial reforms the government will be expected to negotiate the conditions of a Palestinian state.  This is where one can expect both the NRP and National Union/Yisrael Beitainu factions to quit the coalition.  But this is a long way off.

In the meantime the ultra-orthodox factions feel betrayed by Sharon and the Sephardim in the Likud are in revolt over the fact that in the government to be formed it appears there will be very few Sephardim.  Ethnic turmoil is bubbling.

It does not appear such a government will function very well.  On the economic front there is some hope but with 13 hard line right wing seats even if the Palestinians begin their reforms it is doubtful whether any gaps can be bridged.   A smoldering Palestinian front will certainly have a negative effect on the economy.

The coalition looks somewhat paralyzed between left and right.  The first crisis may possibly be over the illegal caravan proto-settlements. Shinui’s Tommy Lapid is justice minister and says he will enforce the law.  The Right wants pro-active continued settlement. 

How did it happen?  Labor’s Amram Mitzna decided to stay out of the coalition.