The system is lousy and many of the people functioning within it are not exactly fantastic either. Those of us who are watching this closely find ourselves doing an enormous amount of speculating. There are so many potential scenarios, so many motivations to ascribe to the players. It ultimately does wear one down. I will review here briefly what is going on:
Yesterday, Netanyahu invited Livni to join a unity government, with him in charge as PM, but Kadima awarded a couple of major ministries, such as foreign affairs and defense. Enough to cause apoplexy.
So then the questions were why did he do this, did he offer sincerely (or expecting her to refuse), and would she accept. Different answers from different analysts.
Livni is in a bind. First, if she does join, the ministries of foreign affairs and defense would be operated under the policies of Likud and be untenable for Kadima — E.g., Likud has in its platform no dividing Jerusalem, while Kadima would want to. This bind is why some people think that Netanyahu offered knowing she couldn’t accept.
Then there is another problem for Livni. She believes she has “won” because her party has one more mandate than Likud. She sees herself as PM. It would be humiliating for her, another source from the inside told me, to accept with Netanyahu running the government, and this she will not do it — although this source thinks Netanyahu wasn’t factoring this in when he made his offer.
Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit has made a fairly definitive statement to the Post: “We are not going to be a fig leaf to an extreme right-wing government. We are not afraid to be in the opposition.”
Although he doesn’t necessarily speak for Livni or the majority of the party, it is to be hoped that this is the way it plays out.
There is a faction within Kadima, including Shaul Mofaz, pushing for that unity government. They say — at last? — that they will consider leaving Kadima if Livni doesn’t join Likud. But “consider” is still just talk.
At any rate, Livni’s only public declaration to date has been to say that she owes it to those who voted for her to keep trying to put together a coalition, and if she cannot then she’ll decide.
Can she put together a coalition? My best guess is still no.
As I wrote previously, she has been courting Lieberman, who was playing it very coy. I know exactly who I’ll recommend to Peres, he announced, but I’m not telling.
Turns out he wasn’t that sure at all, because today the news is that he’ll go with Likud if Likud backs civil marriages and easier conversions. Lieberman represents a Russian constituency that has many people who are not halachically Jewish, i.e., according to Jewish law. The law of Israel permits people who have one Jewish grandparent to become Israeli citizens.
But if Netanyahu agrees to this — which he is indicating he will — he will have trouble with his right wing religious and ultra-religious parties. Already Shas has joined with United Torah Judaism, and possibly The Jewish Home, in opposition to certain policies.
Likud is confident that there are ways to negotiate compromises that will work. Former MK Yaakov Ne’eman, who has a history of negotiating tough compromises, has been brought in for this purpose. And from what I am reading, such compromises are possible. (More to follow on this as relevant.)
Likud, you see, cannot attain its needed majority without Lieberman, but also needs those religious parties. That is, if Livni is not on board. This is how difficult this system is when election results are not clear-cut. And this might — just a speculation — explain why Netanyahu would have considered a unity government: he would avoid all of this horse-trading.
It should be mentioned that Ichud Leumi (National Union) has not yet endorsed Netanyahu. They will not if Livni is in the coalition.
The fact that Livni would readily promise Lieberman the things he is seeking, but he still is trying to get Likud to concede on these matters, means that Lieberman’s first choice really is Likud — but that he sees himself with the power to demand the maximum.
I was astonished yesterday to learn that the soldiers’ votes have been counted and there were no changes in the order of parties as a result of this. Usually there are. But I spoke to someone trustworthy who was present during counting who assures me that these are the results this time. Many soldiers wrote in Gilad Shalit as a protest, which may be why there are no changes.
So, this is where we are as we approach Shabbat. There is a good deal I want to write about the PA and Abbas, but after Shabbat, just as updates on the election scenario will continue then.
At the beginning of next week Peres will start to meet with the heads of all parties, and ask them who they recommend to form the coalition. Netanyahu has to have his act in place by then if he is to garner the recommendations he needs.
In theory, the president is supposed to select the person who has the best chance of forming a coalition to go ahead and try to do so. He is broadly expected to do this, and select Likud.
If Netanyahu has his act together, and if Peres plays it straight, then a government would be formed quickly, as all of the legwork will have been done already.
There is some fear, however, that Peres might select Livni, ostensibly because she has one more mandate, even though a majority of the Knesset would not be with her. Livni’s politics are much more in line with his than are Netanyahu’s.
This would be a horror, for she would drag it out for the full month and more given for forming a coalition, during which time Olmert would still be PM and she would still be foreign minister, and Barak defense minister, and opportunities for them to do further damage would be awaiting them.
With all of this, the possibility for things to work out well is still quite viable. So we have to hold our collective breath, and continue to pray.
See analyst Hillel Frisch writing for the BESA Center, who sees the emergence of a right-of-center dominant bloc in Israel. This is excellent news — transcending the current mess — as it means the people of Israel have finally begun to awake from the mythology of Oslo and land-for-peace, two-state-solution politics. Maybe we’ll have a school system that teaches Zionism again, and an awakening of our pride and our integrity.