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Olmert. Coalition challenge ahead
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Tips for coalition negotiations
Politicians should use coalition negotiations to restore a little bit of respect to Israeli politics
The day after elections always brings with it challenges for parties hoping to join the new government. The relatively small number of seats for Kadima changes the relative powers as coalition negotiations get under way.

 

While the party hopes to preserve its sources of strength for negotiations, it will have to adopt a strategy that doesn't rely on classic
negotiating tactics. Instead, it will have to rely on its powers of persuasion in dissecting long range interests (yes, even in politics!) such as creative processes and people with courage.

 

Most commentators believe the coalition negotiations will be long and hard, but this approach is based on traditional negotiating tactics. The time has come to think a bit more creatively.

 

Time element: There is nothing wrong with splitting the four-year Knesset term into two parts. The first two years could have a social-economic coalition, which would give way to a diplomatic coalition for the last two years.

 

Such an approach would expand Kadima's options, make the debate about diplomatic policy redundant for the moment and allow the government to lay the social-economic groundwork that will allow for the realization of the convergence plan.

 

Interests: Analyzing the political interests of the major parties does not necessarily point to clash. Kadima must bring to fruition three main interests: It must cement its place as the dominant party. This means it must nurture and develop field centers for the party.

 

It also must ensure continued economic growth, and find an appropriate balance between "economic" and "social". Third, it must reduce the "price" of administering the coalition.

 

Labor's interests

 

The Labor Party has a clear interest in bringing about clear changes in the country's list of priorities, while paying close attention to the young vote.

 

Personally, Amir Peretz now finds himself with conflicting interests: It is in the interest of his party to work towards social-economic goals, while it would be in his personal interest to come across to the public as a quality diplomat with strong security qualifications.

 

Shas, too, has an interest in finding quick success, mainly in restoring welfare and social benefits.

Avigdor Lieberman, for his part, has a real interest in brining about the campaign promises he made about internal security, and in establishing himself as a real party leader, rather than as former Shinui leader Yosef Lapid's right-wing double.

 

Strategy, not tactics

 

The fact that Prime Minister-elect Olmert "doesn't need" all the parties wanting to join his coalition should bring the leaders of these parties (mainly Shas, Lieberman and United Torah Judaism) to adopot a negotiations strategy, rather than haggling tactics.

 

Here, too, Peretz finds himself facing new challenges. As leader of the Histadrut labor federation, he pursued one main goal: ensuring the rights of workers. Now, he must deal with several internal Labor interests, such as his party's "ego-magnetic field," and must be careful not to push Olmert to the economic right, into the arms of Lieberman.

 

Process: Kadima's negotiating team must not become arrogant of patronizing, which would indicate a pathetic abuse of imaginary power, and which could hurt the important interests of the party and could raise its "administrative costs."

 

Even if the parties manage to get their desired results, but do so via open give-and-take and public humiliation (think Ehud Barak's coalition negotiations) – the price Olmert will pay in future will rise dramatically.

 

Being straight

 

In politics, too, it is preferable to be straight forward and to the point, instead of utilizing power with no limits.

 

Options: Thinking creatively about options to realize interests reveals internal structures that are not necessarily obvious. For instance, the ministry of the interior is a crucial portfolio for building infrastructure. Kadima would be making a mistake if it gave it to another party.

 

At the same time, the nature of the finance portfolio is to intended to balance out competing lobby groups; therefore, if the Labor Party refuses to budge on its demand to control that ministry it will find itself saddled by the need to find a balance between ritzy north Tel Avivians and working class Sderot.

 

On the other hand, the correct administration of the education ministry could bring the young vote that went to the Pensioners Party this time around back to Labor. No, the portfolios are not everything (and no, this writer is not naive…). In the mechanism of government positions there are dozens (!) of officials whose influence on the country's social-economic reality is far greater than this-or-another government minister.

 

Many people view the low voter turnout as a social protest against the political norms in this country. The election results suggest real change in the political map, and it would appear that we can identify other opportunities to change the political discourse.

 

Next week we will hear the opening siren for official coalition negotiations, and our politicians will have the opportunity to turn a process that has brought Israeli politics into disrepute into a respectable and honorable process of negotiation.

 

Motti Crystal is a lawyer and a negotiations arbitrator

 

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