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Friday Feature-Israel’s Coalition Talks Going Down to the Wire

News Analysis

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23 May 2019
Friday Feature-Israel’s Coalition Talks Going Down to the Wire
Israel’s parliament, called the Knesset, has 120 members. This requires a minimum number of 61 MKs to form a governing coalition. In every election, parties must garner a minimum 3.25% of the vote in order to pass the “threshold” and enter the Knesset. Because of this system, even a small party with only a few seats can make outsized demands in return for an agreement to enter into a coalition government, and that dynamic has been playing out in Israel since the elections for the 21st Knesset on 9 April.

Just days away from the legal deadline for incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to present his governing coalition for the 21st Knesset to President Reuven Rivlin, none of the potential coalition partners who recommended that he be tasked with forming such a coalition following the elections have formally signed on. On Sunday, Netanyahu told the weekly cabinet meeting that some of the leaders of potential partners were making unrealistic demands, adding a public appeal for them to lower their expectations.

However, later in the week, progress was reported following Netanyahu’s meetings with Arye Deri, leader of the Ultra-Orthodox Shas faction and Avigdor Liberman, leader of Yisrael Beytenu, who has reportedly demanded to return to his old post as Defense Minister. Some analysts expressed surprise at this, since it was Lieberman’s resignation from that post and his withdrawal from the governing coalition late last year which essentially triggered the most recent elections.

Additionally, Lieberman, whose party recieved only 5 mandates in the most recent election, is demanding that the government take a tougher stance to ensure the security of communities near the border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. He also wants a member of his faction (not necessarily himself) to be appointed chairman of the Knesset’s Interior Committee, along with other demands.

But the thorniest demand that Lieberman is making is that the perennial question of how to draft young men from Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox (haredi) community into some form of military service or civilian national service finally be settled. The issue has been an open wound in Israel’s political and social life for decades, with many ideas to solve it being tried but ultimately coming up short.

Deri and the leaders of other haredi parties have flatly refused to accept Lieberman’s plan for resolving the issue and Lieberman has been quoted as saying he won’t back down either, leaving Netanyahu and the Likud Party he leads trying to figure out a way forward. Meanwhile, the possibility that another round of elections might be required has already been quietly raised by some political analysts.

With the clock ticking towards the legal deadline for forming a coalition government and both sides digging in, negotiations can be expected to go down to the wire.


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