Despite being a coalition comprised of the “right” and the “religious,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fourth government, which was scheduled to be voted in on Wednesday, does not appear to be united or stable. With a razor-thin, one-seat Knesset majority, the new governing coalition could easily be toppled by a single, rebellious coalition partner. Avoiding that result will take some delicate internal diplomacy from the prime minister.
Netanyahu attracted the haredi Shas and United Torah Judaism parties by agreeing to reinstate funding to large haredi families and by promising a rollback in the reforms passed by the last government on conversion policies and the military draft of haredi Israelis. Those reforms were championed by the modern Orthodox and Zionist Jewish Home party, led by Naftali Bennett, another coalition partner. In agreeing to join the new government, Bennett has seemingly abandoned these issues in favor of others.
One of Bennett’s big issues is settlements. Jewish Home will be given the Agriculture Ministry, which controls funding for settlements. And the ministry will be given authority over the part of the World Zionist Organization that funds settlement infrastructure. The attorney general’s office is reportedly seeking to block the settlement-funding piece of that agreement.
The Bennett inducement also calls for Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked to become justice minister. During last summer’s Gaza war, Shaked posted a call on Facebook for the destruction of the Palestinian people. Pundits are anxious to see whether she will moderate her speech and how she proceeds to exercise her considerable authority in the new government — particularly with respect to the controversial law to declare Israel a Jewish state. That issue, the Jewish nationality law, becomes even more complex, since it is opposed by another coalition partner: Moshe Kahlon of the Kulanu party.
Given all of these conflicting agendas and positions of his coalition partners, Netanyahu’s historic reluctance to take bold steps may prove to be this new government’s saving grace. Through deft handling of procedure, he is engineering an expansion of his cabinet from the legal maximum of 18 ministers, in what is seen as an effort to dilute each minister’s influence, thereby making it more difficult for the government to lurch in any one direction. But while that move may help Netanyahu stay in office, it also means that Israel will continue to drift away from religious pluralism and away from trying to find some compromise with the Palestinian Authority. Both are issues of increasing importance to a broad segment of Diaspora Jewry. On top of that, there is unfortunately no reason to look for warming ties with the Obama administration. And no matter what your politics, that’s not good.
So through at least the end of 2016, we predict stormy weather ahead for Netanyahu, for the coalition he leads and for Israel’s relations with its neighbors and the United States.