The Labor party’s central committee has voted 680-570 to ratify a coalition agreement that party leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak negotiated, against considerable and open dissent from some of his party’s own Knesset members. The party will join the cabinet led by PM-designate Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud, along with Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas, and HaBayit HaYehudi.
I am not sure which surprises me more, that Labor is joining what will be an ideologically un-connected government (unless Kadima ultimately relents and signs on as well), or that Labor got such a sweet deal in both portfolio payoffs and policy commitments.
Or, to look at it another way, I am not sure who ultimately was revealed to be more desperate: Barak to avoid leading his diminished party into opposition, or Netanyahu to avoid leading a strictly right-wing/Orthodox government.
Nonetheless, despite what the second-linked item implies, Labor does not look over-represented. It will have 5 ministers. If the cabinet continues to have around 25 ministers, that would be 20%. Labor has 13 Knesset seats, and the coalition will have 66 seats, giving Labor just under 20% of the coalition’s seats. Gamson rules!
Labor will get five very important portfolios and they may indeed come with some policy influence outside of what the party’s size might imply: Defense, Industry, Trade and Labor, Agriculture, Welfare and Social Services and one minister without portfolio who will be in charge of minorities’ affairs. The JPost notes that “The two sides also agreed that Netanyahu would not be the one to appoint Labor ministers to the portfolios, but Barak would do so.” Of course, the notion that a party (through its agent, the leader) and not the head of the government, controls the ministerial posts, is as much a core principle of parliamentary government as is Gamson’s Law.
As for Kadima, this brings me back to another core principle of coalition government: that coalitions tend to be ideologically connected. If Kadima stays in opposition, it is in a really strange and perhaps untenable position. It sits pretty much at the center of the Israeli political spectrum, on each of the main policy dimensions, and yet will have governing parties all around it in the issue space. I have a hard time imagining how a party with such little ideological coherence of its own can survive in that position.