Monday, April 13, 2015

Likud Faces Difficulty In Knesset Coalition Formation

Israel's Likud party is scrambling to form a coalition before an April 22nd deadline. While Prime Minister Netanyahu can request an extension on coalition talks, Likud has been trying to seal a deal prior to the 22nd. Competing demands and party influence have not made this an easy process.

The centrist Kulanu party has been bargaining hard. Kulanu, which gained 10 seats in its first ever election bid on March 17th, is asking the Prime Minister for the Finance, Housing, and Environmental Protection portfolios. As a new and centrist party, Kulanu is unlikely to put the same kinds of demands on the Prime Minister as further right and more established parties. It would be in the Prime Minister's interest to form a coalition with the party. However, United Torah Judaism is also vying for the finance ministry, and Bibi intends to bring both that party and Shas into the coalition. Complicating matters for the Prime Minister, HaBayit HaYehudi leader Naftali Bennett, whose party won 8 seats, is also vying to be Foreign Minister even though the post has been given in the past to Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman. Given that Yisrael Beiteinu won only 6 seats to HaBayit HaYehudi's 8, Bennett sees grounds for giving him the ministry.

Two coinciding events have helped Prime Minister Netanyahu in the negotiating process. First, formal negotiations ceased for the week-long Passover holiday. Yet under-the-table negotiations continued which gave Likud more negotiating room. Secondly, the Iran nuclear deal has seen consistent front-page coverage in the Israeli media. The Prime Minister himself has contributed consistently to media coverage of the story, expressing concern about the terms of a potential agreement. However, the media's focus on Iran has allowed Netanyahu to conduct negotiations out of the spotlight, which gives him greater flexibility with the parties.

Now that Passover has ended and the nuclear deal has been in the headlines for over a week, negotiations are likely to spool back up. There are some scattered indications a unity government isn't off the table, but a broad right-leaning government is the most likely possibility once the dust settles.

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