After Israeli president Reuven Rivlin finished talks with all of the country’s parliamentary parties on Monday, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to amass a governing majority in a six-party coalition that will easily prove more right-wing than either of Netanyahu’s governments following the 2009 and 2013 elections.
While coalition talks are not likely to begin until Wednesday, when Rivlin formally asks Netanyahu to begin negotiations, the contours for the next government seem clear.
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It’s worth taking a moment to state just how right-wing the ‘Netanyahu IV’ government will be.
In 2009, when Netanyahu returned to the premiership after a decade-long stint in the wilderness, his coalition included a former center-left prime minister, Ehud Barak, and the other traditional Israeli party, the Labor Party (מפלגת העבודה הישראלית).
In 2013, after a long round of negotiation talks, Netanyahu ditched the ultraorthodox haredi parties in favor of two moderates — Tzipi Livni, a centrist and former foreign minister and Yair Lapid, the leader of the secular centrist Yesh Atid (יש עתיד). Lapid, who would serve for two years as finance minister, demanded that Netanyahu eschew the haredi parties, especially in light of a contentious debate about the exemption of haredim from the Israeli Defense Forces.
Today, however, Netanyahu is set not only to welcome those ultraorthodox parties back into government, but to exclude Labor, Yesh Atid and any other real centrists. For all the hand-wringing among Israeli allies, most especially the United States, over the past six years of Netanyahu’s dominance, Netanyahu’s third consecutive term will be something like ‘Netanyahu squared.’
Lapid, Livni and the Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog have all ruled out joining a Netanyahu government, to the dismay of centrists (including, allegedly, Rivlin) who would prefer a more balanced government with a ‘national unity’ flavor.
The six parties aren’t firmly set yet, but all of them, representing 67 members of Israel’s unicameral, 120-member parliament, the Knesset (הַכְּנֶסֶת), recommended Netanyahu as the new prime minister and, accordingly, all six are expected to take part in the next Netanyahu government:
Likud (הַלִּכּוּד). Netanyahu’s own party, the traditional party of Israel’s center-right since the 1970s, had an outstanding election, and it will hold 30 seats (fully 25%) in the Knesset. Rising starts, such as Gilad Erdan (pictured above), currently minister of internal affairs and slated, potentially, for justice minister in the next government, and Miri Regev, the top female candidate on the Likud party list and a former brigadier-general, will likely win top cabinet positions alongside old Netanyahu allies like Moshe Ya’alon, defense minister since 2013. Despite grumbling within Likud ranks about Netanyahu’s leadership, his election victory on March 7 will put to rest any leadership challenges for now — the most serious of which was former interior minister Gideon Sa’ar.
Kulanu (כולנו). The second-largest partner in the coalition (10 seats) is a new party, founded by former Likud politician Moshe Kahlon (pictured top, right, with Netanyahu). Kahlon, who as communications minister won acclaim from all corners of Israeli society by breaking up mobile phone industry monopoly, will almost certainly become Israel’s new finance minister, thereby replacing Lapid. Like Lapid, Kahlon waged an impassioned campaign targeting income inequality and rising prices; unlike Lapid, Kahlon is much more hawkish on foreign policy and Palestinian relations, as you might expect from a former Likudnik. If there’s any policy shift leftward in the next Netanyahu government, it will come from Kahlon and his party, and it will come chiefly in the arena of economic policy.
Kahlon’s star is only slightly brighter than that of Michael Oren (pictured above), the New York-born diplomat-turned-politician first elected last week to the Knesset after serving as the Israeli ambassador to the United States from 2009 to 2014, and who might emerge as a candidate for foreign minister.
Bayit Yehudi (הבית היהודי, ‘The Jewish Home’). To the extent that Netanyahu waged a campaign that strategically tacked hard to the right, he successfully stole votes from the religious conservative Bayit Yehudi, led by the charismatic champion of the pro-settler right, Naftali Bennett. Though Netanyahu and Bennett have had their ups and downs — the latter briefly served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff in the mid-2000s — Bennett is likely to remain a key ally in Netanyahu’s next government. As economy minister in the previous coalition, Bennett was perhaps even more a nuisance to Netanyahu than Livni and Lapid. His snarking pushed Netanyahu to the right on everything from settler policy to the Gaza offensive in the summer of 2014. Bennett, however, faces acrimony of his own, with Uri Ariel (pictured above, right, with Bennett), the most recent minister for housing and construction, allegedly considering a break from Bayit Yehudi — Ariel leads the so-called ‘Tekuma’ faction within the party — in the never-ending race to the right.
Shas (ש״ס). Though the haredi parties cannot be thrilled with the fact that they hold only 13 seats, in aggregate — one fewer than the Arab party coalition — the leading Mizrahi ultraorthodox party, Shas, couldn’t be happier. After launching a comeback to lead Shas, a haredi party founded in 1984, Aryeh Dery (pictured above) has now, in part, overcome the stigma of his conviction on bribery charges 15 years ago. Though Shas now holds just seven seats, it will not compete with the new party that Eli Yishai, Shas’s leader from 2001 to 2013, founded as a hard-right alternative to Shas. Yishai’s venture failed to win any Knesset seats at all. That puts Dery right back in his comfort zone — as a power broker. Shas, since its founding, has been in government for 26 out of 31 years — a trend that’s likely to resume. Dery, nevertheless, will be disappointed that his blunt campaign to unite ethnic Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews (the former, a branch of Judaism with traditional roots in Spain and the latter a catch-all term for Sephardic Jews and Jews of Middle Eastern origin) failed.
United Torah Judaism (UTJ,יַהֲדוּת הַתּוֹרָה הַמְאוּחֶדֶת). The haredi party — or, rather, coalition of parties — that appeals to the ultraorthodox voters of Ashkenazi descent (Russian and eastern European); its six seats weren’t necessarily guaranteed to fall in line for Netanyahu after the prime minister abandoned the haredi cause of the T’al Law, which exempts haredi students from military service. Nonetheless, UTJ seems likely to fall in line — so long as Yesh Atid remains in opposition.
Yisrael Beitenu (ישראל ביתנו). None of Netanyahu’s allies had a rougher 2015 election than the party of Avigdor Lieberman, (pictured above) Israel’s long-time foreign minister, who was once so close to Netanyahu that his party ran in an electoral coalition in 2013 as ‘Likud Beitenu.’ Corruption allegations surrounding Lieberman, however, weighted Netanyahu down in the 2013 elections, and they continued to plague Lieberman and his party, a secular nationalist group that has wide support among Russian emigrants to Israel. The stench of corruption, combined with Netanyahu’s skillful lurch to the right, deprived the party of seven seats — the worst showing of any party in the Knesset. Though the party now holds just five seats, Lieberman is still favored to retain the foreign ministry.