by David Eden
Two other parties that may be possible coalition partners:
· United Torah Judaism – Essentially, it is only concerned with internal issues. Its real demand is maintaining social services and allowances for their constituents. Other issues: Maintaining the powers of the Orthodox Rabbinical Courts over civil issues such as marriage, divorce, burial, etc. are among their top priorities, along with maintaining the Sabbath laws preventing work on the “Holy Day”, laws keeping ultra-Orthodox youth out of army service, etc. Although their constituency is sympathetic to the settlers and the Right, the leadership stresses that they are willing to support any coalition that accedes to their demands. As Olmert does not need them to guarantee the stability of the coalition, he won’t be “courting” them. Some of the issues that may affect their position in coalition negotiations are their rivalry with Shas and their often-confrontational relations with Meretz and groups within the Labor party over freedom of religion.
· Meretz – The party that is the Israeli equivalent of the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party”, Meretz and its predecessors have been at the forefront of not only the contacts that led to direct negotiations between Israel and the PLO (and the ensuing Oslo Accords), but from the earliest days after the creation of the State of Israel also have led the struggle for equal rights for Israel’s Arab citizens, labor & union rights, women’s rights, freedom of the press and freedom of religion issues, gay rights, etc. It endorses negotiated withdrawal from almost all of the West Bank, including parts of Jerusalem. The support of Meretz for Olmert’s disengagement plans are virtually guaranteed whether they are coalition partners or not. Although Olmert will probably prefer to keep this party out of the coalition, as its demands on social and economic issues would mean that it would be Labor’s ally in the cabinet, he may ask them to join the coalition based on Meretz endorsing him in their meeting with the President. This would further demonstrate that the main priority of his new government will be to continue on the path set by the withdrawal from Gaza. Having Yossi Beilin or Haim Oron at the cabinet table, will provide some balance to the presence of some of Kadima’s former Likud ministers (i.e. Shaul Mofaz or Gideon Ezra). If the party is left out of the coalition, Olmert will keep Meretz as an “ace in the hole” that could be brought into the coalition if another partner (Shas) bolts in a bid to halt a proposed withdrawal.
All dressed up and nowhere to go – the 3 “Arab” parties:
· Ra’am/Tal, Hadash, & Balad – These parties control a total of 10 representatives in the new Knesset. Drawing virtually all their support from Israel’s Arab citizens, these parties are destined to remain largely ineffectual, as they will rarely be able to influence government decisions when their votes do not alter the balance of power. Although firmly opposed to unilateral steps by Israel, they cannot in good conscience oppose any Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories, and when the issue is presented for a vote in the Knesset, will be torn between voting for these measures, or abstaining as a protest against unilateral moves. But their Knesset representation of 10 seats will be counted in coalition negotiations. If Olmert could be 100% sure he has the unwavering support of ALL members of Kadima and Labor, he could theoretically form a strong pro-negotiation government (Kadima, Labor, Meretz, & the 3 Arab parties – 63 MKs) or even a minority government (Kadima, Labor, & Meretz – 53 MKs) with the outside support of the 10 MKs from the Arab parties. Either of these scenarios is extremely unlikely, but will be a consideration (or “threat”) in negotiations with other parties.
Left behind – the core of the Opposition:
· Likud – If the Likud continues to be led by Benjamin (Bibi) Natanyahu, the Likud is doomed to concentrate on infighting and mutual recrimination between their leaders. Reduced from 38 MKs to only 12, their loss is not only ideological, but also personal for many of its leaders. Over the years, Natanyahu’s relationship with Olmert has gone from rivalry (they both competed for leadership positions in the Likud) to outright enmity. Other Likud members will try to force Natanyahu to resign both from his leadership position and from the Knesset, and effectively withdraw from politics for the foreseeable future.
· Ichud Leumi (National Union-NU)/Mafdal (National Religious Party-NRP) – The combined list of the 2 parties most identified with the settlements, these parties ran their campaign almost exclusively opposing any future Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. They are certain to remain in the Opposition in the 17th Knesset.
Some observations on Labor:
· Going into the campaign, the future of the Labor Party was not certain. When Shimon Peres left this bastion of Israel’s traditionally Ashkenazi elite to join former PM Ariel Sharon in forming Kadima after losing the party chair race to Amir Peretz, he took with him many of Labor’s most ardent members and supporters. Peretz is an unlikely leader for Labor, he is Sephardic (born in Morocco), was neither a high-ranking officer or academic, and is definitely “a man of the people”. There was, and is, strong opposition to him from other party leaders, as well as in the rank and file. Other Labor MKs who served as generals are probably better prepared to be Minister of Defense, which is the 2nd most prestigious job in the government. Olmert has changed his rhetoric regarding his insistance on keeping the key Finance Ministry for Kadima, and has said that Peretz is a “worthy” candidate for the post. But he obviously prefers that Labor take the Defense Ministry. Many in Labor will demand that one of the “generals” get the post, but if Peretz is able to influence Olmert’s economic and soacial agendas without being Finance Minister, he may well choose Labor’s top cabinet post for himself, as is his right as Party Chair. As Defense Minister, he will have the opportunity to gain experience in a field he does not have, as well as filling one of the key spots in determining Israel’s future in the coming years. He will also be cementing his role as a key player on Israel’s political scene.
David Eden was a member of Kibbutz Yasur, & the political aide of MAPAM (a predecessor of Meretz) Chair MK Elazar Granot (1986-1990). Married to a Princeton resident since 1996, he currently works for an independent social policy research firm.