Enter the Netanyahu Government

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Who won the election on Tuesday night and what do the results tell us about the composition of the next government?

Israeli voters decided two things on Tuesday. First, they decided that they want the political right to lead the country. Second, leftist voters decided that they want to be represented by a big party, so they abandoned Labor and Meretz and put their eggs in Kadima's basket.

These two decisions – one general and one sectoral – are what brought about the anomalous situation where the party with the most Knesset seats is incapable of forming the next governing coalition. Despite Kadima leader Tzipi Livni's stunning electoral achievement, she cannot form a coalition. Binyamin Netanyahu will be Israel's next prime minister. The Likud will form the next coalition.

But what sort of governing coalition will Netanyahu form? That is today's sixty-four-thousand-dollar question.

During the campaign, Netanyahu said he wants to form a broad governing coalition. Until Tuesday, he planned to bring the Labor Party led by Ehud Barak into his government while leaving Kadima out in the cold. It was his hope that as the odd man out, Kadima would be destroyed as a viable political entity.

The public, though, had other plans. On Tuesday, voters wiped out David Ben-Gurion's party as a political force in the country. Labor's senior leadership reacted to their defeat by declaring that the time has come to move into the opposition. There will be no coalition with Labor.

That leaves Kadima. If Netanyahu wants a leftist party in his government, he will need to bring in Kadima. Such a coalition would be based on a tripartite partnership between the Likud, Kadima and Israel Beiteinu.

Although Netanyahu clearly prefers such a broad coalition, it is not his only option. The other possibility is to form a government with his rightist political camp. A coalition of the Likud, Israel Beiteinu, Shas, United Torah Judaism, the National Union and Habayit Hayehudi would constitute a stable governing majority that could withstand attempts by Kadima to bring down the government in the Knesset.

THE QUESTION is which coalition is best for the Likud? The answer to that question is debatable. But to begin to understand what should drive Netanyahu's decision, it is necessary to recognize his top priorities in office.

Netanyahu has made clear that his top priorities are preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, defeating Hamas and strengthening the economy.

Netanyahu's free market economic philosophy is shared by Kadima and Israel Beiteinu. It is not shared by Shas or Habayit Hayehudi. The National Union is neutral on this issue. So to cut income taxes by 20 percent, as Netanyahu has pledged, a coalition with Kadima is preferable to its rightist alternative. On the other hand, the fact of the matter is that Netanyahu will probably be able to push his economic policies through the Knesset with either governing coalition, particularly if he proposes them quickly.

This leaves the issue of Iran and its Hamas proxy in Gaza. Here the situation becomes more complicated. In a conversation on Thursday morning, Likud MK Yuval Steinitz argued in favor of a coalition with Kadima by noting that as the Kadima-led government's wars in Gaza and Lebanon, and its destruction of the Iranian-financed, North Korean built nuclear installation in Syria in September 2007 show, Kadima shares the Likud's willingness to use force against Israel's enemies.

At the same time, Steinitz acknowledged that Kadima used force in both Lebanon and Gaza to advance diplomatic aims that are diametrically opposed to the Likud's diplomatic aims. In Lebanon, Livni was the architect of the cease-fire with Hizbullah that paved the way for Hizbullah's rearmament, reassertion of control over south Lebanon, and effective takeover of the Lebanese government. In Gaza, the Kadima-led government is about to agree to a cease-fire that will in the end strengthen Hamas's grip on power and legitimize the terror group as a political force.

Moreover, unlike the Likud, Kadima has made establishing a Fatah-led Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and Gaza its most urgent strategic goal, followed only by its ardent desire to give Syria the Golan Heights. The Likud opposes both of these goals.

In contrast to Kadima, the rightist parties in Netanyahu's voter-made coalition share the Likud's philosophy both in terms of when to use force, and in terms of the diplomatic aims the resort to force are supposed to achieve. The rightist Knesset bloc would not agree to a cease-fire agreement in which Israel is required to release a thousand terrorists, including mass murderers, from prison. They would not agree to cease-fires that enable Hamas and Hizbullah to continue to arm, control territory or attack Israel. They would not agree to a national strategy that advocates subcontracting Israel's national security to international forces. And they oppose transferring Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights to Arab control.

THE DISPARITY between Kadima's and the Likud's strategic goals makes a rightist coalition seem like the best option. But there are reasons why an observer could reasonably reach a different conclusion. The existential threats Israel faces today from Iran and its proxies are exacerbated by the fact that the West's position on Israel is swiftly converging with the Arab world's position on Israel. Throughout Western Europe, elite opinion has swung against the Jewish state. Today not only can Israel expect no support from Europe for its moves to defend itself from its enemies, it can be all but certain that Europe will actively seek to weaken it. The only question is what means Europe chooses to adopt against Israel.

Presently, Europe suffices with threatening to prosecute Israeli military personnel and political leaders as war criminals, levying partial embargos on the sale of military equipment to Israel, supporting anti-Israel resolutions in international forums, and refusing to end its trade with Iran. In the future, the EU is liable to end its free trade agreements with Israel, seek Israel's delegitimization as a "racist" state, and perhaps join Russia in supplying Arab armies and Iran with advanced weapons and nuclear reactors.

As for the US, the Obama administration's interest in courting Teheran and the Arab world place Jerusalem on a collision course with Washington. Given the high priority the Obama administration has placed on appeasing Iran, its decision to end US sanctions against Syria, and its intense desire to establish a Palestinian state, it is fairly clear that Israel cannot expect to enjoy good relations with Washington in the coming years without adopting policies that would endanger its survival.

It is common wisdom in Israel that the Israeli Left is capable of limiting the level of hostility directed against Israel from the US and Europe. Livni exploited this popular belief during the electoral campaign when she warned that a rightist government would destroy Israel's relations with Washington. Apparently convinced by her warnings, some voices in the Likud argue that with Livni and Kadima in the government, the US and the EU will think twice before adopting openly hostile policies.

Unfortunately, this view is demonstrably false. As foreign minister in Ariel Sharon's government during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, Shimon Peres did not prevent the international Left in Europe and the US from accusing Israel of committing war crimes. The Kadima-led leftist government was unable to secure European support for Israel in the Second Lebanon War. The fact that Israel was led by the leftist Kadima-Labor government during the wars in Lebanon and Gaza did not improve the West's negative reaction to the fighting.

The generally ignored truth is that international hostility toward Israel is driven by factors extraneous to Israel. Consequ
ently, Israel's governments have little ability to influence how foreign governments treat it, regardless of who forms those governments.

There is one intrinsic advantage that leftist parties bring to rightist-led coalitions. Leftist parties are capable of mobilizing the support of the domestic leftist elites for the government's actions.

Because the Left was in the government in 2002, 2006 and 2009, the media supported Defensive Shield, the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead. And because it was in the opposition during the 1982 Lebanon War and during the Palestinian uprising from 1988 to 1990 as well as in 2003, when Sharon led a rightist coalition, the political Left colluded with the leftist elites in the media, in Peace Now and its sister groups, as well as with foreign governments to undermine the government. Since Tuesday night, both the local media elites and Kadima leaders have made clear that they will consider a Likud-led rightist government illegitimate and will work to destabilize it with the intention of overthrowing it within a year or two.

It is true that it is hard to imagine that either Kadima or the leftists in the media would oppose a decision by the Netanyahu government to attack Iran's nuclear installations. But it is also true that they would seek to minimize any strategic advantage Israel might gain either locally or internationally from removing this clear and present danger to Israel specifically and to international security generally. In the aftermath of such attacks, Kadima would unquestionably blame the government for whatever punitive steps Washington and Brussels implement against Israel in retaliation for the attacks.

More disturbingly, in the event that Kadima leads the opposition, it is easy to imagine Livni and her cohorts in her party and in the media attacking the government for refusing to give land to Fatah in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem and for refusing to surrender the Golan Heights to Syria. Kadima's leaders will have open invitations to travel to Washington and Brussels to delegitimize the Netanyahu government's policies toward the Palestinians and the Syrians, and more likely than not, they will use them.

On the other hand, it is far from clear that the situation would be much better if Netanyahu were to bring Kadima into his coalition. Livni can hardly be expected to set aside her obsession with establishing a Palestinian state in Jerusalem, Gaza and Judea and Samaria, particularly given that she seems convinced that she won the elections.

IN SHORT, given their disparate strategic goals, as a senior coalition partner, Kadima can only be relied upon to support Netanyahu in implementing a limited set of policies. As Netanyahu considers his options for forming a coalition, he needs to answer four questions:

First, can Kadima's cooperation be assured in the event that the government decides to attack Iran's nuclear facilities?

Second, will having Kadima in the government bring Israel significantly more leverage with the Americans in the run up to or the aftermath of such a strike than not having it in the government?

Third, will the Likud be weakened more if Livni attempts to advance her Palestinian policy from within the government or from outside it?

And finally, as the Likud's senior coalition partner, will the damage Kadima causes the Likud through its devotion to Palestinian statehood and willingness to transfer the Golan Heights to Syria outweigh the advantage gained by its partnership in attacking Iran?

How Netanyahu answers these questions should determine the nature of his governing coalition.

Originally published in the Jerusalem Post.

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  • Pops in Vienna 02/13/2009 at 19:03

    Another brilliant article Caroline.
    Being an old IDF Captain, I imagine you’ve heard the expression, “Some people are just too stupid to live”. I would say that aptly applies to 52.9% of the American voters who voted for Obama and a significant amount of Israeli voters who voted for Kadima.
    I’m certain that many of your predictions will come true. No doubt Livni will do everything she can to undermine any government that she doesn’t lead herself.
    While the situation you described appears quite complex, it’s actually very simple. As an Israeli do you want to survive or not?
    You can either follow the Livni path and continue to give away huge chunks of Israel in hopes that the terrorists and the Americans and the Euros will like you or you can stand behind Netanyahu and pray that Israel is able to pull off a brilliant bombing raid and end this nuclear menace once and for all.
    Obama and the Euro weenies will despise Israel no matter what it does. Livni will be tolerated at cocktail parties in Washington and Paris but only as long as the Iranians or Saudis aren’t at the same event drinking Cokes.
    I hope G-d curses the United States and the European Union for bringing us to the brink of another holocaust. Never forget, my a**
    Stay safe

  • Phil S 02/13/2009 at 19:25

    Caroline I have a simple answer for you. Did George Washington bring Benedict Arnold into his government? Bibi should not bring Israel’s traitors in.

  • Marc Handelsman, USA 02/13/2009 at 19:31

    Here are four answers for Mr. Netanyahu. NO, Kadima’s cooperation can’t be assured in the event that the government decides to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. NO, having Kadima in the government won’t bring Israel significantly more leverage with the Americans. YES, Likud would be weakened more if Livni attempts to advance her PLO policy from within the government. YES, the damage Kadima causes the Likud through its devotion to PLO statehood, and willingness to transfer the Golan Heights to Syria, outweighs the advantage gained by its partnership in attacking Iran.

  • seth swirsky 02/13/2009 at 20:50

    In the end, I don’t think Livni can be trusted. Remember how she pounced upon her boss, Olmert, whenever things got shaky for him. Like, the Winograd Commission report. She cannot be trusted. Netanyahu should consider her behavior when he considers Kadima.
    Personally, I think Israel’s existence is at stake and there’s no time to be playing games with an entire faction (Kadima) that doesn’t agree , fundamentally, with Likud.

  • davis,br 02/13/2009 at 22:35

    Carolyn, isn’t the real question (since the US government has become insular) becoming: Can Israel stand alone?
    Has any small country ever been able to stand alone for long?
    Is it time for Israel to consider …while it is the pre-eminent military power in the ME (well, save for the US: which, with its current administration having pointed, umm, philosophical issues in the cantata of wielding power, is probably rendered ineffectual at best …and who knows, at worst) …to rethink, umm colonial imperatives? Or has it already?
    He who controls the …oil? Perhaps?
    I don’t otherwise – other than the use of force – see sustainable outcomes that don’t come face up against Arabic cultural mores that preclude rational response.
    Ah. And that’s the core of the issue, isn’t it? – A dependency upon rational response from rational players. Of whom, I see but few (at most).
    What, I wonder, is the best [long term] rational response …and what is the window wherein such may be successfully performed?
    Is the window closing? Or …perhaps …has it just opened?
    All things considered, but of course.
    Victory, all things considered, can be a wonderfully cleansing solution to otherwise intractable issues.
    …but maybe I’m just having a brutally pessimistic off-day.

  • Ron Grandinetti, USA 02/14/2009 at 3:33

    Given the high priority the Obama administration has placed on appeasing Iran, its decision to end US sanctions against Syria, and its intense desire to establish a Palestinian state,
    Obama and company is on the verge of making all the wrong moves
    As an American it is not our business to dictate or suggest any peace plan for Israel. As our friend we should stand by her and accept the peace plan Israel wants to live by and we do not and should not use Israel to appease any Arab state.
    We owe Israel not the Arabs. If you want to appease the Arabs, send Clinton, Mitchell and Holbrook to do one nighters throughout Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Jordon they would be a bust.

  • Yossi 02/14/2009 at 13:39

    A Likud-led coalition with Kadima and Israel Beytenu is impossible because Kadima is still the largest party; such an arrangement would mean political suicide for Livni.
    A Likud-led rightist coalition is possible, though highly unstable. Netanyahu’s economic policies and Israel Beytenu’s secular agenda are incompatible with Shas and UTJ.
    Unless the Likud manages to persuade Kadima MKs like Mofaz and his cohort to defect, a new round of elections is forthcoming. The only thing the present government can do is to change the voting system in order to eliminate the smaller parties.

  • David Custis Kimball 02/14/2009 at 15:46

    Caroline as usual – ahead of the curve
    I recently read this article http://www.memri.org/bin/latestnews.cgi?ID=IA49209
    It shows, not completely, but substantively the ripsaw that Israel faces: It’s like the good enemy, Egypt, and the bad enemy, Iran. There is not a breath, or a thing that Israel can do that will please both, or either on a given day.
    I agree to not let the fox, Livni, in. It is bad enough that you are lousy with self-destructive forces in the Knesset.
    This article refers to a ‘Cold War’, which is grandiose enough, but its really a Cold War of good enemy-bad enemy, one uses the pen to invade, the other the worst nuclear holocaust. It is like the Repub. vs. Democrats now in USA. A false choice or rather a choice, neither of which leads anywhere, but misery. Our Republican was chosen by both Democrats and others, and he was continually doing the splits between the two factions, and in the process exposed his jewels, which were emasculated, and was justly portrayed as weak and ineffectual.
    I trust that Netanyahu is up on his Game Theory, and will not mistake appeasement for advantage. It’s been a while for me, but opposing the enemy, especially a two-headed on is difficult because winning may not lead to a good outcome, but one that can more easily be defeated by one of the enemies. Hence tit for tat in Gaza, makes Israel seem to be the bully, and in so doing, Israel gives up, and then Iran claims victory. That dynamic is depressing to the spirit of Israel. It is common knowledge that it is a false victory, and enhancing that seed would also be a good idea.
    Israel has several important either neutral or slightly positive allies; they need to be part of the advantage, rather than ignored and appeasing the false friends that surround Israel, and that idiot in N. Korea.
    Stay Strong, brave and true.

  • Yotam Barnoy 02/14/2009 at 20:28

    Great analysis Caroline.
    Another thing to consider, is that much of Kadima is not die-hard leftist. I don’t think Livni is much of a leftist herself — she was pushed into that position b/c of the political realities of betraying the Likud and going with Sharon (as opposed to Olmert who has been feigning belonging to the Right for quite some time). The positive effect of the growth in Kadima is the disappearance of many gung-ho Leftists from the Knesset.
    I think taking Kadima in to the government is unavoidable, as much as I would prefer for them to wither away. The Left inside Israel will go ballistic, screaming that it was a stolen election and what not (much like in America with Bush). I think Netanyahu should keep the moderate right in the government (Shas, Bayit Yehudi, Lieberman) and keep the ‘extreme’ right out (Kadima won’t join otherwise). If Kadima threatens to leave at any point (which I’m sure it will), Netanyahu has the backup of the right-wing bloc. All in all though, many of Kadima’s members are ex-Likudniks and won’t have too much difficulty functioning in a somewhat more right-wing government. The sad part is that Livny will have to be foreign minister — a job she was a complete failure in for the past 2 years (as you outlined before). Hopefully she’ll be happy with deputy prime-ministership.
    Another element of the strategy is to try strengthen Labor (at the expense of Kadima). If they’re opposition members, polls may show them getting more votes, which will keep Kadima in line.

  • Hakan Johansson 02/14/2009 at 20:47

    We, Europeans, shall be grateful that Israel destroyed nuclear facitlities in Iraq and Syria, and Irans programme might be an even bigger threat to our own security. Today it must be obvious to everybody that current policies in dealing with Teheran has failed, and neither EU or US are drawing the right conclusions of their owns failures. Except talking EU will conitnuing doing absolute nothing and Barack Obamas “new” approach are just more of the same. If Israel doesn’t act swiftly, nobody will. Iran can continue developing nuclear bombs to be ready as early as 2010. Then, it’s indeed already too late. For Europeans and the rest of the world it is bad enough with an nuclear armed Islamic republic of Pakistan, rapidly heading towards an out of control, Somalia-style, reigme, now also with A.Q. Khan freed, and the ongoing nuclear blackmail in Pyongyang. Now are we quickly heading from bad to worse, and the most scary thing is that we instead of discussing this in Europe are obsessed with questions like if Israels answer to eight year of missile-rain from Irans proxy in Gaza was proportional or not. What will be an proportional answer to a future nuclear attack on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv? And how about nuclear profileration in the perspective of a Hamas-run palestinian statehood even closer to the EU and Syrian rule in the Golan Heights? Isn’t it bad enough with Hizbullah in the Lebanon-government, Muslim Brotherhood majority in the streets of Cairo and all fashions of our own home-grown al-Qaida-boys in London, Paris, Stockholm and all over the rest of EU and their far left excursers in parliaments or symphatisers in influential media and campuses? A worseing global economic crisis offers the right moment for jihadists to renew their war on the west, and Theheran wouldn’t hesitate to join when oil incomes are drying up and their rulers are in increasingly need for external enemies to blame. Europeans really don’t need another nuclear armed Islamic Republic on top of all this, but we might deserve it for our habit to always discuss the wrong issues and never learn from history. London and Paris could easily have stopped Hitler in the Rhineland 1936, and the EU can easily join Israels efforts to stop Khamenei-Ahmadinejad. Peace now can be translated to Nuclear war tomorrow.

  • Luigi Frascati, Canada (but today from the USA) 02/15/2009 at 1:36

    There is power in definitions.
    Take for instance the definition of “Peace in the Middle East”. Peace in the Middle East is viewed in Israel as the undisputed, self-existential right to sleep in peace without running the risk of being wiped off the face of the planet. North Americans define Peace in the Middle East, for right or wrong, as the irrefutable right to pay less at the gas pump. Europeans, instead, envision Peace in the Middle East as absolute silence, with no explosions or blasts coming from the Holy Land, whether in the form of rockets raining down in the Negev, or 2000 lbs. bombs suddenly dropping from the sky on to Gaza. Russians, on the other hand, view Peace in the Middle East as a MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) doctrine in a miniaturized scale: an equilibrium to balance off a presumed nuclear Israel with a less nuclear but increasingly militant Islam. China thinks of Peace in the Middle East as absolute chaos, a return to the Big Bang so as to take advantage of cheap crude, wherever it may come from. And finally, Islam defines Peace in the Middle East as the total annihilation of the Jewish State, coupled with the equally total annihilation of the Sunni or Shi’te faction, as the case may be.
    So therefore, in light of the foregoing divergences one would be tempted to argue that anyone who in this day and age still believes in the concept of “Peace in the Middle East” ought to have his/her head examined by a psychiatrist with a magnifying lense. Also, one quite possibly would be equally tempted to argue that “Peace in the Middle East” should not be made a priority in any forthcoming Israeli government – nor should it be made the top foreign policy objective of the current American Administration.
    With that said, it may be a mistake to give too much weight to the position that both the United States and Europe seem to be taking when it comes to Israel. It is true that international hostility towards Israel is driven by extraneous factors, but it is also equally true that these factors are typically directly related to extemporaneous circumstances.
    For example, although this is not the America of the Yom Kippur War and although there are no Richard Nixons at its helm nor are there any Henry Kissingers around to help Israel, likewise today’s America is ideologically split in half and navigating through a tsunami of economic woes. It is also politically disoriented. Sure, Barack Obama can trumpet to the whole world that the Israeli-Palestinian question is on top of his foreign policy agenda, but then again Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said last week that Afghanistan, not the Israeli-Palestinian question, will be the “greatest challenge” of this Administration. And in a seemingly effort to underscore this statement, a few days ago the Pentagon has moved the 10th Mountain Division into the provinces of Logar and Wardak. They appear to be the first batch of up to 30,000 additional combat troops, which will bring the total US military presence in Afghanistan to on or about 70,000.
    Besides, there are cracks and rivalries that are beginning to surface and appear in this Administration, and they are more and more visible with each and every passing day. For instance, Obama has dispatched George Mitchell to the Middle East and Richard Holbrooke to Afghanistan and Pakistan. But where is Hillary Clinton? There are three hot spots in the world today: the Middle East, Afghanistan and North Korea. Does this mean that Mrs. Clinton left her Senate seat to go talk to Kim Il-sung? I doubt it.
    We may very well be worried about what Europe will do to contain an Israel tilted to the political right, and thus perceived or presumed to be increasingly militant. But such worries may be without foundation if in fact Iran turns Afghanistan into another Laos, as it appears to be poised to do, and body bags start coming back home, both here and in Europe. We will see then how serious this Administration is in its pledge to court Teheran and Damascus. And we will see then, how much all those philanthropic Liberals out there in Europe truly care about those poor, innocent Palestinian or Lebanese children killed by those mean, heartless Israeli soldiers. We’ll see.
    Even in the front of religious affinities, whether real or imaginary, things seem to be turning around somewhat, with the Europeans involved in a debate as to whether in fact anyone short of Jesus can possibly lead the Holy Land, and with the Americans … well, the Americans have already found their own Messiah – straight out of Kenya.
    So in essence, Ms. Glick, I believe that your analysis is clear, concise and to the point as pretty much all of your political analyses are. But I also believe that Mr. Netanyahu should not be overly concerned with trying to appease everybody, and should be focusing to form a coalition with the first and foremost objective in mind to implement Likud’s agenda.
    For me, such a coalition excludes Tzipi Livni and Kadima. (I must say, though, this is not so for Charles Krauthammer. Mr. Krauthammer has stated yesterday on Fox News that the next government will include Kadima and Tzipi Livni as Foreign Minister).
    [ PS: today I’m pestering you from the Land of the (Tax) Free – Somehow this sounds better than a mere 20 percent income tax cut ]

  • lawrence kohn 02/15/2009 at 13:40

    Moshe Arens’ book, Broken Covenant, describes how James Baker worked with the Egyptians, and with Rabin and Peres (who were in a national unity government with Arens and PM Shamir) to undermine the Shamir-Arens approach to negotiations with the Palestinians keeping out the PLO. So Livni could if she chose undermine a unity government from within. But Israel cannot stand alone and it will with an exclusively rightist coalition. Netanyahu needs to be prepared to call elections and break up a unity government over his partners’ and the US desire to give up the Golan and Judea/Samaria while moving quickly on the economy and Iran. It’s dicey no matter what; that’s the effect of the elections as they proceeded. What I am afraid of is Bibi agreeing to an international conference sponsored by Russia which is being touted as an alternative to one sponsored by the French. Better a fair weather friend than an enemy: Russia has been and remains an enemy but the statement (Russia is no longer involved in terrorism) by Bibi in the 1990s suggests even he isn’t clear completely about who is an enemy and who is a friend.


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