Thursday, June 2, 2016

Knesset Coalition Instability Is Secondary

In the wake of Yisrael Beiteinu joining Israel's governing coalition, some worry that this time Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has gone too far. Since formation of the newest coalition last week, analysts have pointed out that it is shaky, tenuous, and unstable.

These characterizations are decidedly true. Lieberman and Netanyahu have different constituencies and personal political interests. Their differences are so great that upon joining the coalition, Lieberman reassured the Israeli public that he had lengthened his short fuse. The coalition has also drawn criticism not only from the left but from within the Prime Minister's own Likud party. History (ie 2015) has also shown Likud Beiteinu to be is an unstable political isotope.

At the same time, these analyses miss two important political factors at play.

First, Prime Minister Netanyahu is setting the tempo of Israeli politics. This coalition deal is proof positive. The latest coalition shuffle does not give the Prime Minister a substantially stronger coalition - he has 66 now compared to 61 a month ago. This boost is enough to reduce the damage of a few MKs defecting on a vote, but it is not a mandate by any stretch of the imagination. The Prime Minister also switched his offer to join the coalition from Labor to Yisrael Beiteinu at his leisure. With this brilliant political play, Netanyahu simultaneously hurt Labor leader Yitzhak Herzog's credibility, strengthened his coalition, and demonstrated his control of the political system. When ties with Yisrael Beiteinu inevitably break down, the Prime Minister will be directing the path of politics in the Knesset, not reacting to them.

Second, the effects of an unstable coalition are limited without a viable alternative. As the previous post details, Prime Minister Netanyahu has remained in power by systematically dismantling alternatives to his leadership. In Israel's Knesset the left is de-fanged, the center is fractured, and the right is coopted. This is a favorable state of play for the Prime Minister and one which he had a hand in engineering. Thus, while a coalition that includes Yisrael Beiteinu is unstable, there is no serious pressure from outside the coalition that will exacerbate this instability in a meaningful way. While the public may be concerned or even dissatisfied with the current coalition, there does not exist a better option for the immediate short-term future. This lack of alternative gives the Prime Minister breathing space to mitigate the harms of an unstable coalition.

While this coalition, like all coalitions, will eventually succumb to the dynamics of Israeli politics, there is no reason to believe that including Yisrael Beiteinu puts it in danger of short-term collapse. Analysts were surprised by the last-minute including of the party, but the effects of that surprise will die down as the news cycle moves forward. An analytical focus on instability should be redirected at what policies the Prime Minister actually pursues, and what (if any) opposition he faces.