Israel’s Netanyahu Must Balance Internal Coalition Demands With International Politics
Local media is reporting a meeting between Netanyahu, Lapid and Gantz, perhaps a ploy to pressure his right-wing partners
Negotiations have been taking place in Israel since Sunday among the parties elected to the parliament – known as the Knesset, when former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was tasked by President Isaac Herzog with forming a government. However, Netanyahu’s expected partners for the coalition could be problematic when it comes to international affairs and relations with Israel’s allies.
Under Israeli law, Netanyahu now has 28 days to form a government after being tapped to so following the recommendation to the president by parties representing 64 seats of the 120-member Knesset. There is an option to extend the deadline for an additional 14 days.
In recent days, Netanyahu already has met with the leaders of the parties who recommended him to form a government; among them, the ultra-Orthodox and religious Zionist parties.
Dr. Toby Greene, who lectures in the Department of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told The Media Line that, from the international affairs perspective, there are allies concerned about the role that certain coalition partners could play in the next government.
The United States has expressed concern over giving specific portfolios to the leaders of the far-right Religious Zionism coalition – Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who have asked for some of the most important ministries in exchange for joining the coalition. Among them are the Defense, Public Security and Finance ministries.
Greene says that, regarding sensitive political roles and specifically those that have an outward-facing duty, “allies may be unenthusiastic about dealing with them.” He added that he is particularly referring to the ambition of Smotrich to serve as defense minister. “This sets a particular challenge,” he said.
“If there will be a defense minister from Religious Zionism, it might be problematic for Israeli foreign affairs and security,” according to Professor Gideon Rahat, senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and a faculty member of the Department of Political Science at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Israel needs to have “a reasonable minister of foreign affairs, and especially a reasonable defense minister who will continue cooperating with foreign military armies,” he told The Media Line.
If there will be a defense minister from Religious Zionism, it might be problematic for Israeli foreign affairs and security
The main problem, he said, is that Netanyahu must balance between the forces within Israel, and the needs of Israel as a country.
On Wednesday, the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv reported that Netanyahu met with current Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who also is head of the Yesh Atid party, the party with the second most seats in the Knesset, and Benny Gantz, the head of the National Unity Party.
However, all three leaders denied the allegations and called them “fake news.”
Rahat believes that if Netanyahu decides to change direction on coalition partners, the party from the opposing camp that is more likely to join him “is of course the National Unity Party of Benny Gatz and Gideon Sa’ar, but they denied that they will go with Netanyahu,” he said.
“Gantz had very bad experiences with Netanyahu, so he might not go with him,” Rahat added.
He noted that the National Unity Party could decide to sit with Netanyahu anyway if the country comes under some type of security threat, or if the party faces public pressure.
There are always justifications, said Rahat, “but at least right now it doesn’t seem to be very likely.”
He added that what is more likely is that Netanyahu could try to use the threat of bringing opposing parties into the coalition and then “maybe lower the price that religious Zionism is asking for.”
Rahat noted that, while the religious Zionism faction is quite large and important, they do not have the option to join a government with any other partner but Netanyahu.
Greene believes that giving Smotrich the defense portfolio represents potential for significant damage, and “that is an issue that Netanyahu will certainly be keen to try and manage.”
Obviously, he continued, Netanyahu’s “overwhelming priority is to form a governing coalition to return to office, that is the first priority.”
Netanyahu will have to decide, and we will see which part pressures him more: his partners within the coalition or other countries
However, at the same time, he will be keen to try and avoid or at least minimize concerns of important international allies, including the United States first and foremost, said Greene.
Rahat said that “Netanyahu will have to decide, and we will see which part pressures him more: his partners within the coalition or other countries.”
According to previous experience, Rahat believes it will take until the last minute of the deadline until a government is formed.
“You can never be sure,” he said. “Many times, it seems like we’re going to have a government tomorrow, and then it takes a long time which can extend until the deadline or sometimes even to until the extension of the deadline.”