Wednesday, April 01, 2009

I kept my promise to myself not to blog coalition negotiations until they ended. Everything out there during the negotiating period is disinformation, so the less one discusses it the better.

So what have we got? Some things were completely predictable from the start.

Bibi was not going to live for one moment with a narrow coalition. He did not want to function under threat from every unhappy MK, a fair number of whom sit in his own party. Also, he wanted to make his life easier by having some lefties in his government. This keeps some of the press off his back and coopts some of those who'd otherwise be undermining him. (As LBJ said about J. Edgar Hoover, it's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.)

What was not inevitable is the choice of Labor over Kadima. In the end, it is only Livni's inflated ego that kept Kadima out. I predict that it will become increasingly evident that Livni is psycho and she will cause Kadima to self-destruct. In any event, Netanyahu's courting of Barak is worrisome. Several people in a position to know have recently stated publicly what many observers have suspected for a long time: Barak has completely lost his nerve and opposes any assertive action. Not good qualities for a Defense Minister. Some have argued that Bibi can live with Barak as DM because the only issue on the table now is Iran and they are in agreement on the issue. I suspect that if this is indeed the case, the point of agreement is to do nothing.

Another entirely predictable outcome is Mafdal in, Ichud Leumi out. Mafdal is built to be in. They'd have gone in even if Bibi had offered them only chairmanship of the Dead Poets Society, so in fact they got a pretty good deal. Ichud Leumi was never going to sit in the coalition. First, because Bibi didn't want them (he regards them as unreliable and weird) and, second, because they don't really want to be in the government (they're not built to make decisions, but rather to protest other people's decisions).

The great mystery of the next Knesset is Yisrael Beiteinu. On the one hand, Lieberman seems to grasp what Livni does not, namely, that we need to shift the onus of negotiations with our enemies to the question of what they will give us, not what we will give them. On the other hand, as one MK very familiar with Lieberman told me, within two months Lieberman will have an envoy in charge of talking to Hamas and he'll be singing the "ma shero'im mikan" song. His alleged intention to appoint his co-conspirator in Martin Schlaff related criminal activity, Dov Weissglas, as a special envoy does not bode well.

As for this government's domestic agenda, don't expect much. The coalition agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu is the key document, since the later agreements by and large reflect what is written there. First, on civil marriage, they pretty much caved. They now limit their demands for civil marriage to two people of no religion. Very lame. On easing conditions for conversion, it seems that yesterday's agreement with Yahadut Hatorah pretty much kills any significant change. Sofa Landver, newly-appointed Absorption Minister, is bad news and will try to facilitate immigration of as many Russian goyim as possible, but is unlikely to have much impact.

On systemic reform, all the talk of changing the system fundamentally is pretty much moot for now. (It was agreed to establish a committee to study the matter, which is coalition-speak for DOA.) What is left, and apparently will get done (see starting from para. 28 in the YB coalition agreement), is the following:
1. The budget will be bi-annual so that the threat of the government falling as a result of failure to pass the budget is essentially limited to once per term.
2. A Knesset vote to dissolve the Knesset will require more than 61 votes in favor. The coalition agreement calls for 65, but it appears that the number will probably be upped to 70 (as per the transition document prepared by Shteinitz's committee).
3. Right now the law on no-confidence motions is that an alternative government must be proposed and if the proposed alternative fails to get support of the Knesset, the Knesset is dissolved. The new law will be that in such a case the old government will continue as if nothing happened.

The first of these is a good idea. The second less so, but not tragic. The third will quickly become an example of the law of unintended consequences. The idea is to increase stability by making dissolution of the Knesset more difficult. In fact, however, it will have the opposite effect. One reason that no-confidence motions are infrequent is the fear of dissolution of the Knesset, something MKs generally do not want. The elimination of that threat will make frivolous no-confidence motions more frequent. Dumb.

As for the constitution, judicial reform and all that, forget about it. Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman has been badly burned by the Ministry in the past, but (or, more precisely, therefore) he is not bucking for a fight. There is a good reason that the self-Righteous Brothers (Benny Begin and Dan Meridor) fought tooth and nail against Friedmann's reappointment but support Ne'eman's candidacy. (See my post on the differences between Ne'eman's positively horrendous proposed Basic Law: Legislation and Friedmann's proposal.)

Dudu Rotem will be head of vaadat hukah and he is completely unpredictable. He has no interest in a constitution, which is fine. He is crazy in the right direction, but he has somewhat idiosyncratic views on what is important and what is not important. Conveniently, all the big shots are ministers so the committees will be staffed by back-benchers, who -- perhaps less fettered by conventional wisdom -- might do some interesting things under the radar. It's very likely that Tzipi Hotovely (that's the correct spelling) and Yariv Levine -- both people with the right ideas -- will be in vaadat hukah, so some progress is possible.


Anonymous zalman said...

1. Make sure to put those pishers on the edge of the tent facing out. Otherwise, you can get wet.

2. Are there other countries with bi-annual budgets?

3. Maybe I should not be surprised that you can change the number of votes needed to dissolve the Knesset and have it go into effect during the same term. In any event, that change ought to at least require passage by the same number of votes (65 or 70).

12:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you seem to be as optimistic as possible about the way things turned out.

11:01 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Woolf said...

So now I'm thoroughly depressed. Maybe post on such topics after Shabbat.

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Y. Ben-David said...

In Israel, the biggest enemies of the Prime Minister are not the opposition parties, but rather the people in his own party. Bibi was careful not to give any of the three top positions in the cabinet (foreign ministry, treasury and defense) to any strong person from the Likud. He was willing to go so far to give the Foreign Ministry to a very problematic person like Lieberman so as not to give it to a Likud person. Barak did the same in not naming a Defense Minister when he was PM and by giving ministries like the Police to totally unqualified people like Shlomo Ben-Ami. The minhag in Israel is apparently that people in the PM's party try to continually undermine him and stab him in the back, even if it means bringing the government down and losing the next election. Also recall David Levy in 1992, Yitzhak Mordechai, Benny Begin, Meridor and others working to destroy Netanyanu and his Likud gov't in the 1990's. This is REALLY SICK! Can't these people show a modicum of loyalty? Can't they work together for the good of the party and the good of the nation. In World War II, both Britain and the US had national unity governments (in the US, FDR appointed Republicans as Secretaries of War and the Navy). People who had been bitter political opponents got together to work for the common good. It seems Israelis can't do this. This is very frightening. How can we ever wake the people up to get rid of this perverted political culture?

Regarding the Ihud HaLeumi (National Union), Makor Rishon had an article and it was made clear that Netanyahu never had any intention of including them in the gov't. It is not because they are "weird" or only "oppositionists". Katzele has a long history of administration and building things and could have done things in the gov't if given the chance. If they had asked me at the time the President was consulting on whom to place the right to form a coalition, I would have had the NU NOT recomment Netanyahu. Sure, it woulnd't have made a difference, but it would have shown that they have independence and stand for something other than simply being lap dogs for Bibi as the MAFDAL did.
The fact that there are so few "kippot serugot" (National Religious voters) in the Knesset and the Cabinet is not only because of divisions in the camp. The Likud gets a lot of votes from kippot serugot but there is a concious decision in the party, based on its relations with the poltical Establishment in the country to keep National Religious people out of power as much as possible, because they are the biggest long-term threat to the continued rule of the post-Zionist clique that really controls the country and whom the Likud is in constant fear of.
Feiglin is wrong. The Likud is NOT the 'party of Am Israel'. 'Am Israel' is not represented in the Knesset. Get used to it!

4:59 PM  
Anonymous nitzan said...

Y. Ben-David:

The 3% of Israelis who voted I.L. make up "Am Yisrael". But the 23% of Israelis who voted Likud, the 57% who voted for a coalition party, and the 97% who didn't vote for I.L. don't make up "Am Yisrael"?

Go found your own people if you want. You sure don't speak for the people of Israel.

5:16 PM  
Anonymous Y. Ben-David said...

You are probably aware that the Knesset is held in very low esteem by the public----I think it has something like a 20-30% confidence level of the public. That means they don't believe the party they vote for really represents their interests. Haven't you heard many people say "I vote for the least bad party"? This is what I am referring to
Did the people who voted for Sharon and the Likud want Gush Katif to be destroyed. Did the people who voted for Likud this time want Barak to continue as Defense Minister? Did the people who voted Labor want Avigdor Lieberman to be Foreign Minister? Did everyone who voted Likud, Labor, Israel Beitenu want there to be 39 Ministers and Deputy Ministers? If Feiglin did manage to get on the Knesset list would suddenly the Likud suddenly have changed its policies to suit him?

3:27 AM  

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