Netanyahu is letting people board his bus first through the back door: Tzipi Livni is the first one to board. The second will be Shaul Mofaz. Then the front door will open and Shas and United Torah Judaism will be invited in. Netanyahu hopes that by then Labor will be convinced to board as well. If it continues to refuse, he will have to invite Bennett and/or Lapid inside. Without one of these three lists he has no coalition.
As is customary in the business world, the person who is the first to purchase a certain item is offered a discount. After a week of tense negotiations, which included two difficult meetings at the Prime Minister's Residence, Livni was able to get a relatively convenient agreement from Netanyahu. As justice minister and head of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation she will be able to thwart anti-democratic legislation and restrain the Right's control over the Judicial Appointments Committee.
Amir Peretz will apparently be appointed environmental protection minister, and Amram Mitzna is slated to head the House Committee. Livni will also lead the Israeli peace negotiation team. The PM's representative on the team will answer to her. Netanyahu agreed not to conduct his own negotiations. In the absence of a foreign minister – that portfolio is saved for Lieberman – Livni will be given more room to operate than she had in Olmert's government.
This is all true, but.
During the negotiations Netanyahu repeatedly mentioned that he understands the government's policy towards the peace process and the Palestinians in general must change. The US administration expects Israel to initiate moves and the Western European countries are threatening to boycott Israeli goods and institutions. Netanyahu was sincere, but even Livni and her people had a hard time believing these declarations will be implemented. She may very well head peace negotiations that will not take place.
The coalition agreement determines that a party will get one ministerial portfolio for every three mandates it won in the January elections. When Mofaz will get his portfolio, and if you add the House Committee to the equation, this number will drop to 2.5. This means that Netanyahu's third government will be just as bloated as his second government.
Room to operate. Bibi, Livni announce coalition deal (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
In case Labor joins, which is not likely, the government will begin its term with very little public support. It will be a coalition of parties that were hit hard in the elections. It will not be able to advance the equal share of the burden issue because its existence will be dependent on the haredi bloc. The gap between Netanyahu and Lieberman's economic and social outlook and the expectations of Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich will tear the coalition apart from within. Any attempt by Livni to soften the government's positions on the settlements issue will be met with strong opposition from the outside (Habayit Hayehudi) as well as from within.
The voters wanted to see a coalition based on Likud, Lapid and Bennett. Netanyahu prefers the alliance with the ultra-Orthodox. Ariel Sharon would have acted differently under the same circumstances, but Netanyahu is not Sharon. The haredim are like an old shoe: It's out of style and the sole is worn out, but it’s still comfortable. Netanyahu had good reason to get angry while watching Lapid and Bennett take their victory lap and speak openly about succeeding him. He had a personal beef with Bennett, and now he has a personal beef with Lapid.
Netanyahu would like to see Tzachi Hanegbi as defense minister. Hanegbi is the most enthusiastic supporter of a military operation against Iran, but Hanegbi only recently returned to Likud. After the failure in the elections, it is highly unlikely that Netanyahu will be able to pass over Moshe Ya'alon. One of the ministers who will have to vacate their posts is Gilad Erdan. He is a candidate to serve as Israel's ambassador in the United Nations or Washington.
During the election campaign Livni claimed Netanyahu's reelection would lead to disaster. It is difficult to connect this harsh rhetoric with her decision to jump into the PM's arms. The truth is she had no choice. With six mandates there was no point in sitting in the opposition. She sat there before, with 28 mandates, and was crushed. As opposed to Bennett and Lapid, Livni does not have time to build a career.
In the next few days we will see who blinks first – Yachimovich or Bennet, or perhaps the designated opposition leader, Yair Lapid. Nothing is known for certain, apart from the character of the next government. For good or bad, this is what we have.