Often people are confused by what they see as the inexplicable opposition to the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria and other positions backed by Prime Minister Netanyahu by members of the Israeli Cabinet Ministers. The simple answer is this is simply one of the complications of a Parliamentary Government. For many in the United States, such an explanation leaves them just as mystified as they were before the answer, so we need to explain this step by step in plain and simple language starting with the election results and the formation of a ruling governing coalition and establishing who is assigned to which positions.
In Israeli elections the voters do not vote for individual candidates per se, but vote for the party slate of candidates they intend to seat in the Parliament as much as they vote for the top name from each party who would be made Prime Minister should their party be chosen and are able to form a coalition. Each party lists more candidates than they can reasonably expect to achieve given the most favorable break in the voting. The Israeli Parliament seats one hundred and twenty seats which are divided between the parties who attain a minimum of three seats, or about three percent of the votes cast. After the votes have been counted, the parties are assigned a number of seats proportionate to the percentage of the vote they received. If a party won thirty-three percent, basically one third, of the total vote, then the number of seats they would receive would be figured by 0.33 X 120 = 39.6 which would award them 40 seats or possibly only 39 depending on allowing the final count to equal 120. Most often in Israeli elections the top three parties often all fall between 15 and at best 30 seats. In the last election the top four parties received votes as follows; Kadima won 28 seats, Likud won 27 seats, Yisrael Beiteinu won 15 seats, Labor won 13 seats, and Shas won 11 seats.
Despite the fact that Tzipi Livni and the Kadima Party received the most votes and thus more seats, of the top parties she would only probably be able to include the Labor Party in a coalition which would give her and Kadima 41 seats and leave them unlikely to line up an additional 20 seats to surpass half of the Parliament’s total of 120 seats. On the other hand, Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud Party would be able to receive support from Avigdor Lieberman and the Yisrael Beiteinu Party support as well as Eli Yishai and the Shas Party support. This would give Likud 53 votes which, with the support of some of the minor parties and/or the Labor Party support of 13 would place that coalition well above the needed 61 votes. As it turned out, Prime Minister Netanyahu was able to receive the Labor Party support and some of the minor parties which enabled him to have a coalition which held a large enough coalition that seems will be very stable and not overly dependent on any single party other than the two largest other than the Likud Party itself (Yisrael Beiteinu Party and Labor Party). But to receive the support of all these other parties, there is a price that must be paid, or perhaps we could call it an investment.
When Benjamin Netanyahu began to put together his coalition, he would initially need to include Avigdor Lieberman and his party’s representatives as well as Netanyahu’s Likud members when choosing which members elected to the Knesset by each party in the coalition who would receive each of the available Cabinet Ministries. Each party in the coalition would need to be granted at a minimum one Cabinet Minister so their party leader would have a position of title and thus a reason to belong to the coalition. Often each party will have a particular ministership they would want to hold as it would pertain to the actual function and position the party ran to support during the election. An example would be a party which ran on supporting education would demand to have the position of Minister for Education while if a party ran on supporting the pensions of the elderly and handicapped, they would desire the ministership for pensions. The major coalition members are likely to demand the powerful ministerships such as Military, Treasury, Attorney General, and the number two party normally receives the position of Deputy Prime Minister and his choice of ministership. Avigdor Lieberman chose to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Ehud Barak demanded Minister of Defense to join the coalition. Others also made demands in line with their interests or for power and influence. Each party also receives a number of Ministerships, even to include Minister Without Portfolio, which is a title with no department or actual responsibility but carries the same weight as an actual ministership and gives them influence in the general cabinet.
With the majority of the ministerships usually being members from parties other than the Prime Minister and appointed by the leaders of the other parties’ leadership independent from the direct control of the Prime Minister, this results in at least some of the ministerships falling to people who have policy position that may not be completely in line with the Prime Minister, and in the most radical cases, there may be a few who actually work against the policies of the Prime Minister, his party and those who elected him. In the very worst case scenarios these opposition ministers in the general cabinet may even hold high positions if their party had a sufficient size block of seats that might be critical to holding the coalition majority. In response to this difficulty caused by the often fractious coalitions necessitated by the number of parties in Israeli politics, their constantly shifting alliances for binding their votes in order to achieve the requisite three seats to be included in the Knesset (one such is the two Arab Parties and the Communist Party joined together on the ballot to pool their votes, thus assuring they had representation in the Knesset). The Prime Ministers often also form a special cabinet that is made up of the Prime Minister’s party leadership and select people from the other most powerful parties in the coalition and those Ministers who the Prime Minister wishes to invite into this elite conclave. This select cabinet is often consulted before making very important or weighty decisions and for setting the general directions the coalition will take.
So, this is why the coalition put together by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a number of influential Ministers who oppose the legalizing of settlements and some even are working towards maximizing the number of demolitions, a conflict that threatens to break not only the coalition, but to break the Likud Party if such difficulties continue. The very interesting consequence of Likud splitting into two factions and thus forming two parties, should the coalition fall and new elections held, the results could be wildly different than any in Israeli history. Since the founding of Israel, the majority of governments have either been coalitions led by either Labor or Likud with one election placing Kadima in power. Should new elections be the result of a split of Likud into two separate parties, we will call Likud A and Likud B for argument’s sake, the results could produce something wildly disparate of the norm. It would be very possible, extrapolating from recent polls, my guess would place the resulting breakdown as follows; Shelly Yachimovich and the Labor Party with 20 seats, Avigdor Lieberman and the Yisrael Beiteinu Party with 19 seats, Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud A Party with 13 seats, Danny Danon and the Likud B Party with 12 seats, Eli Yishai and the Shas Party with 12 seats, Tzipi Livni and the Kadima Party with 9 Seats. If these numbers should prove somewhat accurate and within a relatively small amount of deviation, Labor would get the first shot at forming a coalition as Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party and Danny Danon’s Likud B Party would both likely refuse to join that coalition and Labor would be unable to put together the necessary 61 seats as they would only be sure of receiving Tzipi Livni’s Kadima Party support and marginally possible of gaining Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud A Party support. On the other hand, Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party would most likely receive similar support as has the current coalition with the exception of Labor, which could be replaced by Kadima should Tzipi Livni be removed as the Party leader, a likely event as she has been receiving some serious internal party resistance. An Israel with Avigdor Lieberman as Prime Minister would be a very interesting and different country and, believe it or not, would likely be able to reach a settlement with the Palestinian Authority or force a solution should the Palestinian Authority leadership refuse to make peace. One thing is certain; the status-quo would definitely be challenged and shaken to its roots.
Beyond the Cusp