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Can Bibi Hold it Together?

In the AP report that Abe quoted the other day, President Obama says that he “recognize[s] the very difficult politics in Israel of getting that [stoping construction of settlements] done”, and in recent days there’s a new wave of speculation about whether this means the coming pulverization of the Israeli coalition. As most analysts see it, Benjamin Netanyahu is caught between the hammer (Obama) and the anvil (his coalition), and there’s no escape.

Today, the PM announced that he will respond to Obama’s Cairo speech next week:

“It must be understood, we seek peace with the Palestinians and with the states of the Arab world while trying to reach as much understanding as possible with the United States and our friends abroad,” the Israeli leader said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting.

This will not be easy. Netanyahu intends to confer with his coalition members, but the problem is that not all of them see things the same way. While some, like Labor’s Ehud Barak, will emphasis the “understanding” with the U.S part of Netanyahu’s promise, others, like Shas’s Eli Yishai might stick to sa different view:

“There is no need to panic,” he said, “While the Obama administration has a different outlook (regarding the settlements), we must uphold our principles.”

These conflicting views of coalition members, and the pressure on Netanyahu to respond positively to Obama’s demands, have added to pundits’ assumptions that a new coalition is likely to emerge soon. As Jeffrey Goldberg predicts:

Something is bound to break, and when it does, the Netanyahu government collapses. Which doesn’t mean that Netanyahu is out of power. It means that he then shares power with Tzipi Livni’s centrist Kadima Party. If I were an American policymaker, that’s the Israeli coalition I would hope for: Netanyahu-Barak-Livni, rather than Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman. You watch: It’s coming. 

Sounds convincing, unless one takes into account how complicated the building of such a coalition would be. Haaretz’s Yossi Verter specified:

What Livni seems to want is this: that Netanyahu disperse the existing coalition, shred its guidelines and adopt Kadima’s policy. Then they would have something to discuss. A senior person close to Livni, who in fact would gladly join the coalition, predicted this week that such a scenario isn’t going to happen. In that person’s assessment, if Netanyahu gets into a situation in which he needs Kadima, it will be from a position of weakness. Livni will demand an equivalent rotation and also everything he offered her in the negotiations conducted after the election: the same number of portfolios as Likud, including foreign affairs and defense; adoption of the formula of two states for two people; and a continuation of diplomatic negotiations from the point at which they were stopped during the days of the Kadima government. It is true that large parts of Kadima are longing to join, the source admitted, but not Tzipi. She won’t let that happen.

If Livni gets Defense, Ehud Barak has nothing to do in the government. If Kadima’s policy is adopted, Netanyahu will lose control within his own Likud Party. If you imagine this Likud-Kadima-Labor coalition to be a stable one, think again. All three parties combined have 68 mandates. With “rebels” expected in all three parties, and the fragility of this new arrangement, there’s hardly enough to maintain a coalition that is more stable than the current one. What the public fails to grasp, over and over, is that stability in Israel depends not on having the right number of coalition members but rather on executing a consensual policy. Netanyahu’s speech, in ten days, will give him the opportunity to provide such a policy – one that will make most Israelis nod in approval. Only by achieving this, will he be able to keep his government alive.



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