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Post Election Coalition Building

3 March 2006

By Yisrael Ne’eman

With the Israeli elections in less than a month’s time, all sorts of speculation and even nonsense are being pitched around. The latest rumor involves a coalition of Labor and Likud together so as to outmaneuver the centrist Kadima party and leave them in the opposition.

Coalition building is usually set in reality (although not always) rather than fantasy. The left wing Labor under Amir Peretz and the right wing Likud led by Benyamin Netanyahu have little in common. Former labor union chief Peretz wants to empower organized labor at the expense of private initiative while Netanyahu dreams of breaking every last union and forcing binding arbitration to solve all disputes. Peretz supports state involvement to facilitate economic growth while Netanyahu wants to attract foreign investment.

On the security front, Labor can live with the security fence as Israel’s new border with an independent Palestinian state. The Jordan River would be handed over to the Palestinian Authority in a permanent status agreement, meaning that Israel’s eastern border would be one and the same as the security fence. The Likud has not quite agreed to the idea of a Palestinian state at all, but rather calls for a Palestinian entity. Furthermore, the eastern frontier is to be the Jordan River bringing about an annexation of the Jordan Rift Valley as a security zone. Peretz has already met with PA Pres. Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as part of his dovish platform to make peace, even if the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas controls the Palestinian Legislature and will form the next government. Netanyahu will have nothing to do with the Palestinians (or so he says), after the Hamas victory.

A more likely scenario involves a Kadima led coalition. They may be “centrist” but most members are formerly Likudniks or leaned that way. Should Kadima receive 35 seats or more Acting PM Olmert would have the choice of a right or left wing coalition. The instinct will be to turn right first, taking in the Likud with 15 seats or more and adding in Avigdor Leiberman’s Yisrael Beitainu faction (situated politically between Kadima and the Likud) which may pick up 8 seats or so. If the coalition is still short of the necessary 61 mandates to form a majority from the 120 member Knesset, they can turn to the ultra-orthodox Ashkenazi United Torah Judaism to put them over the top. With UTJ it is a matter of yeshiva funding and draft deferments as concessions – no big deal.

Olmert can give Netanyahu the treasury and let him continue the hard line capitalist policies begun three years ago. And later Kadima can blame him for abusing the working class and the poor should the coalition disintegrate. On foreign policy both Kadima and the Likud are almost in agreement; neither will speak with the Palestinians since the Hamas victory and as far as the Jordan Rift security zone is concerned, Kadima speaks of a “presence” in the region while the Likud advocates annexation. It all makes no difference since neither sees a Palestinian partner on the horizon.

Should the rightist coalition fall apart over economic or foreign policy issues, Kadima can always turn to the left and bring in Labor with some 20 seats. Yisrael Beitainu could very well remain along with UTJ. If neither sticks it out, bringing in the hard line left wing Meretz with 5 seats may be a stretch, but always a possibility. One way or another, a coalition will be formed.

Kadima has been losing support in the recent public opinion polls, hence some wild speculation. Policy planning and logic almost always determine coalition building, not the attempt to grab headlines or sell newspapers with rather unusual ideas.