Just as the clock was about to run out on PM-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s period for forming a government, he struck deals with Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid) and Bayit Yehudi (Naftali Bennet), to go along with one struck weeks earlier with Tnuah (Tzipi Livni).
That this would most likely be the make-up of the ultimate coalition was clear almost as soon as the election results were in–or at least that is what I told our synagogue congregation in a “sermon” (yes, a political-science sermon!) shortly after the election. So I want to thank the Israeli party leaders for making me look good. Nonetheless, as is often the case with such bargaining, it went down to the wire and endured many twists and turns and seeming crises along the way. Of course, one can never be sure how many “crises” and threats are real chances for the process to break down, and how many are posturing for a better deal. I suspect most of them were the latter.
Yesh Atid leader Lapid struck quite a good deal, in insisting on several of his campaign promises or post-election declarations: a smaller cabinet–including legislation to mandate that future cabinets be smaller still–a reduction in the number of deputy ministers, no ministers without portfolio, and–the big one–a commitment for legislation to “equalize the burden” by bringing more Haredi men (ultra-orthodox) into military service. In the last weeks, he made some direct threats to let the process lead to new elections–which some polls suggested would lead to a big increase in seats for his party–if his party did not get the Education ministry for Yesh Atid MK Shay Piron. Likud was insisting that the post stay with its own incumbent, Gideon Saar. Lapid won this showdown, too.
Bayit Yehudi also struck a good deal, with the party claiming some key economic portfolios including the Ministry of Industry and Trade for Bennet and Housing and Construction for Uri Ariel (a leader of the ultra-nationalist National Union, which merged with Bayit Yehudi during the last Knesset term).
As had been previously agreed, Tzipi Livni will be Justice Minister as well as lead negotiator with the Palestinian Authority. Her list’s #3, Amir Peretz, will have the Environmental Protection portfolio. (Livni struck a deal with the Green Movement before the election, and even though Peretz does not represent the Greens, getting the portfolio confirms the support Green voters brought to Livni’s list overall.) The prior agreement for two ministers from Tnuah (6 seats) was another potential source of bargaining breakdown, as when combined with the agreed smaller cabinet, it meant Tnuah would be over-represented. Livni threatened to withdraw her earlier agreement if she were her list’s only minister. Her seats are superfluous for the coalition’s having a majority, but Netanyahu apparently really wanted her (presumably for her international standing), and she got the deal adhered to. The cabinet size was increased from 21 to 22 as part of the agreement to keep Livni’s list at two. (Lapid had campaigned for 18; recent cabinets have had a number of full ministers in the high 20s, with numerous deputies.)1
The biggest deal of all, however, is that the two Haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, are going to the opposition. Their combined strength of 18 seats made them almost equivalent to Yesh Atid, and Netanyahu tried to play the card of an alternative coalition in the bargaining. There is little doubt that he would have preferred the continuation of a coalition with the Haredi parties over the one he is about to present to the Knesset. However, as long as Yesh Atid continued to be backed by a de-facto post-electoral, but pre-coalition, alliance with Bayit Yehudi, the alternative was not credible.2 The lack of a credible alternative shows up in the significant concessions Netanyahu had to give to his partners.
Based on the likely composition of the government, we can calculate the degree of over/under-representation of each party. Under “Gamson’s Law” we expect the shares of ministers for each party in the agreement to be proportional to the shares each party contributes to the coalition’s parliamentary basis (i.e. its number of seats).
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The table shows the shares calculated both with Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu as separate parties, and with them treated as one. The latter is done because they ran on a joint list. It is clear that the various concessions Netanyahu was forced to concede on policy and specific portfolios to his two main partners were traded for a significant over-representation to the joint list he led in the election. Likud-Beiteinu will have an absolute majority of the cabinet, despite representing less than half the Knesset seats of the coalition (and exactly half if the technically superfluous Tnuah is removed from the calculation).
We can also see that Yisrael Beiteinu was rewarded for being in pre-election coalition with Likud, as it is over-represented if considered as a separate party, especially relative to Bayit Yehudi, which is actually a slightly larger party.
The deal to preserve the second seat for Livni’s Tnuah results in this list being the one that is represented almost perfectly proportional to its seats. Not bad for a superfluous party!
Ultimately, this coalition reflects quite closely the way Israelis voted: an overall right and pro-settler tilt, but decisively away from Haredi dominance of key posts and policies.
Pardon the lack of links. If time permits, I may add some more at a later time. This is based on numerous Haaretz articles, as well as others in Ynet and Times of Israel, and almost daily news reports heard/see on Kol Yisrael radio and IBA-TV.
- During the bargaining, there had been statements that Kadima (2 seats) also had joined the Bayit Yehudi-Yesh Atid alliance and that its leader Shaul Mofaz would get one of Yesh Atid’s ministerial posts. But this did not happen. [↩]
- Interestingly, Bennet campaigned as if his list had a formal agreement with Likud and then bargained as if he had a formal agreement with Yesh Atid! [↩]