Benjamin Netanyahu is working overtime. Faced with the unappealing possibility of a right-wingers-only government, one that would undoubtedly make it harder for him to function in an international arena, he is struggling to create a broader coalition that would include elements of the center-left. At the same time, he doesn’t want to sacrifice too much of the right-wing platform that the Israeli voters overwhelmingly supported in the election. To this end, he has obtained from President Shimon Peres a two-week extension on putting together a coalition.
Having found little interest on the part of Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party — which is looking to re-establish its electoral relevance through a stint in opposition — Netanyahu is finding an unlikely partner in Labor. Labor’s chair, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, has thrown his full weight behind joining the coalition despite the harsh objections of other Labor leaders, and has chosen to gamble his political future by bringing it to a vote of the party’s central committee this coming Tuesday.
This will not be easy. True, Labor just got hammered, its representation in the Knesset is down to a measly 13 seats, and the party is desperate for any proof it can show that it’s still capable of offering national leadership. Yet Labor is also a self-proclaimed party of the Left, where “Left” here reflects opposition not only to the Right’s hawkishness but also to its economic liberalism. At a time when Israel is desperately trying to avoid the economic turbulence of other Western countries, and when peace negotiations seem to have little promise, the concessions Netanyahu might end up making on economics may have a far greater impact on the legacy of the next government than anything that may happen on the diplomatic front.
But this may be moot, if Barak fails to garner enough support in his own party. He’s working the phones as we speak.