Two former finance ministers warn that the man recently selected to take that post, Moshe Kahlon, will have to work under challenging circumstances and fight to advance his agenda.
Avraham Shochat, who served as finance minister between 1992-1996, does not see a promising future for a narrow coalition. "This is a 61-member government and in such a coalition, which is made up of four parties besides the Likud, essentially, any party could topple the government any time it wants," he said.
Shochat added that "the culture of political behavior that has developed in recent years is very complex and difficult. There is no doubt that this whole situation will seriously hamper the finance minister's ability to advance his plans, especially when he talks about a lot of reforms – and reform naturally usually creates strife and disagreements. Therefore, a government that has 61 members and no strong power core, with parties that can apply pressure – this is a very difficult situation for a finance minister."
Shochat believes that in order to deal with such an eruption of pressure, the finance minister will have to threaten to dismantle the government. "Every one of the members of government wants to be in the government and no one wants to go to elections," said Shochat.
"So if the finance minister sees that he can't do anything, he will announce that he's quitting the coalition and they'll go to elections. The finance minister's threats and the power he will have to topple the government give him certain leverage. The question is how the coalition will work with 61 members, because bringing down the government is also in the power of the other parties. Therefore, this is a situation that is basically not good."
The former finance minister said of his tenure that he was in a minority government that had only 56 seats. "Labor then had 44 seats and Meretz had 12, but we made a coalition. Formally, only 56 members supported the government and it didn't dissolve, but remained stable for four years. But that's not the situation now."
Meir Sheetrit, who was finance minister between February and July 1999, considered the effect a narrow coalition could have on the budget. "Essentially, anyone in the coalition could obstruct a budget from being passed or any other budgetary decision," he said.
"It's enough that one of the 61 members votes against, and the government won't be able to pass the budget or anything else involving it. In other words, besides paying NIS 10 billion in coalition promises, the government will be completely dependent on every member of the coalition. It seems to me like a situation in which it's impossible to function, because they will have to please every one of the coalition members."
Sheetrit emphasized that the smaller the coalition, the smaller the government's ability to attain its goals, "unless the government really behaves with total irresponsibility and drastically increases the deficit with no limits, but then we'll feel the results very quickly. As soon as the deficit increases to a high level, all the credit rating companies will be able to hurt Israel's credit in the world and the result will be very serious."
Sheetrit agrees that the finance minister will have a hard time functioning in these circumstances. "The finance minister is a member of the coalition," he said. "He has a very senior position in it, and now the decisions he wants to make depend on every one of the coalition members."
According to Sheetrit, the finance minister will not be able to pass reforms without the complete support of the government and the Knesset. "If the opposition wants to fight these reforms, and the opposition is unified, it will fight them much more strongly, and I don't know how much the government will be unified on the matter. The problem is that everyone, and not just the party leaders but every party member, will be able to topple the government any time he or she wants. This does not bode well.
"In this situation, the government will work in one of two ways: It will pay everyone as much as they want so they shut up and then the country's situation will be bad, or alternatively, the government will add another party to the coalition, such as Yair Lapid's (Yesh Atid), but he won't join if they cancel the draft law. Therefore, there's a catch-22 here and the prime minister will have to decide which way to go."