Bump in the Road for Bibi

In this photo taken Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, Moshe Kahlon speaks during a debate hosted by the Israel Women's Network in Tel Aviv. Kahlon leads a non-aligned Kulanu party at the upcoming Israeli elections. Kahlon is a... In this photo taken Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, Moshe Kahlon speaks during a debate hosted by the Israel Women's Network in Tel Aviv. Kahlon leads a non-aligned Kulanu party at the upcoming Israeli elections. Kahlon is a working-class Likud breakaway of Libyan Jewish descent who became popular for reducing mobile phone costs while serving in previous governments. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov) MORE LESS
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Some interesting news out of Israel. And before getting into it, I want everybody to be emphatically clear that no one should expect that Netanyahu will be unable to form a government. But Moshe Kahlon, the ex-Likud centrist candidate, who was touted as the kingmaker for either Netanyahu or Herzog, is putting the the PM through his paces.

Kahlon is reportedly demanding that centrist Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party be included in the governing coalition as the price of his entry. This would be in order to shift it toward a center-right from a rightist coalition. Additionally he’s making fairly aggressive demands for the government and parliamentary positions which would make it possible for him to push through the reforms he ran on – which are tied to breaking up monopolies, reducing the cost of living in the country, etc.

To put the numbers in context, the right wing and religious blocs have a total of 57 seats. So they absolutely need Kulanu in the coalition – Kulanu or someone else. But no one else is available. So it’s Kulanu. With Kulanu, Netanyahu has a decent, though not large majority of 67 seats. Perfectly serviceable.

Graphic: Haaretz

Kahlon’s desire to bring in Lapid makes perfect sense. Lapid’s willingness to do so is much less clear. Sitting in governments with people you trashed before the election is almost the definition of Israeli politics. But putting this together would mean having Lapid sit with the orthodox parties – which was the issue we discussed here when we thought he’d be serving in a Labor government. There’s also the fact that booting Lapid out of the last government was the trigger to calling these elections in the first place.

Joining another Netanyahu government would mean joining a Prime Minister he said needed to be tossed (not a huge problem) and also joining a government that is opposed to his parties core principles (at least in regards to the ultra-orthodox). Conceivably, if Kahlon jammed Netanyahu into forming a ‘social’ government, Lapid could justify it in those terms.

What another friend points out is that as much as joining Netanyahu again could potentially be lethal to Lapid, not being in government could equally be lethal. Absent being able to produce anything for his constituents or having any strong ideological underpinning, he might well just become irrelevant and disappear entirely in the next election.

As a side light, there’s been a been on-going mystery how Lapid managed to do so well in this election in the first place. After being the surprise winner in 2013, Lapid went ahead and arguably betrayed everything he’d run on to join Netanyahu’s government in alliance with the hard-right Naftali Bennett and then proceeded to achieve virtually nothing (arguably – he got some stuff). So why on earth would voters give him another chance? The consensus was that he simply ran that good a campaign. His number dropped by almost 50%. But usually in Israeli politics, parties like that simply disappear on the second go. And that did not happen.

In any case, none of these challenges seem insurmountable. Between them Kulanu and Lapid control 21 seats, way, way more than the 4 seats Netanyahu absolutely needs to form a government. That number could even allow him to drop other obstreperous potential members of his coalition (though that seems unlikely). What this will do is force some interesting choices on Netanyahu.

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