Broad is better than narrow
Two important developments came out of Israel this week related to Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to form the next government.
First, he signed a coalition agreement Sunday with Avigdor Lieberman of the far right Yisrael Beiteinu Party, which would make Lieberman the next foreign minister.
Second, he asked President Shimon Peres to help him form a unity
On one hand he is forming a right-wing government, on the other hand he is pulling every available string to avoid a right-wing government. (Don’t for one second believe the hard-line Netanyahu liked asking the dovish Peres for help.)
Bibi, as the Likud leader is called, is in a bind. Sure he can form a narrow right-wing government with Yisrael Beiteinu and a few smaller far-right parties, but it’s hard to govern from that position. A junior party in the coalition, with just a few Knesset seats, can demand the moon from the prime minister, threatening to bring down his government if he doesn’t deliver.
To make matters worse, Israel could become something of a diplomatic pariah if it forms a government opposed to a two–state peace solution. Just this week, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana threatened to deal differently with an Israeli government that does not commit to a two-state solution for making peace with the Palestinians.
Not that Likudniks care what the Europeans think, but they do care what the Americans think. President Obama has gone out of his way to convince the Arab world that he will be an honest broker in the Middle East, including giving his first White House interview to an Arab news network.
That’s why Netanyahu is hedging his bets; his coalition agreement with Lieberman has an escape clause in the event a broad-based coalition is possible. Bibi may talk like a hard-liner, but he’s a politician at heart.
He also wants to succeed as prime minister, and he knows governing through a narrow coalition of like-minded, anti-peace parties doesn’t promise his next government will have a long lifespan.
In order to accomplish anything in his second go-round as PM, Bibi needs a broad-based coalition; he needs Kadima.
Enter Tzipi Livni, the Kadima leader who actually finished first in the just-completed national election. Livni has already said she would not lead Kadima into a government that does not endorse a two-state solution, and is prepared to lead the loyal opposition.
That’s why Bibi needs Peres’ help.
Can a broad-based coalition still be salvaged? Well, Gil Hoffman of The Jerusalem Post said Tuesday that Netanyahu likely will not meet Friday’s deadline to form a new government and will have to ask Peres for a two-week extension.
In Israel, anything can happen in two weeks.