There was no blue and white smoke emanating from the roof of the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem today, but not long before the College of Cardinals sent up their signals in Rome announcing the election of a new pope, reports began to circulate that after nearly two months Israel’s leading political parties had finally concluded their negotiations and a new government has been formed. Reportedly, the government will be formally announced on Saturday night and sworn in on Monday, only two days before President Obama arrives in the country.
The outlines of the agreement that seems to have been concluded were apparent as soon as the votes were counted after the January election for a new Knesset. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu Party will join forces with the two other big winners, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi as well as one of the losers, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua, to form the new coalition. The fractious talks in which both Netanyahu and Lapid appeared to be bluffing and threatening each other up until the last moment would seem to indicate that this Cabinet will be at each other’s throats and might not last the full four years until the next election. The fierce rivalries and even personal grudges among these four leaders will provide plenty of fodder for Cabinet leaks and feuds. But with only four parties in the government and with little disagreement among them on the most important economic and social issues facing Israel, predictions of doom might be misplaced.
Yet more important than the contentious dynamic that will exist among those inside the tent will be the question of who won’t be there: the ultra-Orthodox parties. Their absence and the opening for reform of the draft system, as well as the potential end of the patronage gravy train for Haredi institutions, will have a bigger impact on the nation than any disagreements among the party leaders.