Daily Briefing: Netanyahu’s Post Election Wheeling and Dealing (Apr. 30, 2019)

Politics: Putting Together the Puzzle: Lahav Harkov, Jerusalem Post, Apr. 25, 2019 — when President Reuven Rivlin officially tasked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with forming a government last week, Netanyahu said he wanted to get started as soon as possible on building a coalition with the same partners he had for the past four years.
Netanyahu’s Brilliant Victory and The Battles Yet to Come:  Isi Leibler, JTA, Apr. 21, 2019 Israeli voters have chosen Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in what was essentially a referendum over whether he should be re-elected for a fifth term. 
Israel’s Right-Wing Majority:  Nathan Sachs, Brookings, Apr. 11, 2019 — If Israel holds elections in the year 2029, you might do well to bet on the right-wing Likud Party.
An American Perspective on Israel’s Election: Douglas J. Feith, Hudson Institute, Apr. 22, 2019 Much of the foreign commentary after Israel’s April 9 election has dealt with its supposed effect on Israel-Palestinian relations. 

On Topic Links

 
PM Backs Edelstein For Third Term as Knesset Speaker, As Coalition Talks ResumeTimes of Israel, Apr. 28, 2019 — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday tapped Likud’s No. 2 Yuli Edelstein for his third consecutive term as Knesset speaker, as coalition talks between his right-wing party and its would-be partners began in earnest.
Likud Holds Coalition Talks with Shas, UTJ: Lahav Harkov, Jerusalem Post, Apr. 28, 2019 — The Likud’s negotiating team met with haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) as coalition talks continued Sunday, and UTJ continued taking a hard line on religious issues.
Big Stakes Are at Play in Israel’s Coalition Talks:  Meirav Arlosoroff, Haaretz, Apr 22, 2019 — A modest graph in the 2018 Bank of Israel annual report is promising to become a major component of the coalition agreement that will form the basis of Benjamin Netanyahu’s next government.
Gantz Accuses Netanyahu Of Using Coalition Talks To Secure Immunity From Indictment:  i24, Apr. 24, 2019 — Former Israeli army chief and leader of the centrist Blue & White alliance Benny Gantz charged on Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is using coalition talks to enlist partners that will guarantee his immunity from prosecution for a number of corruption charges pending against him.

POLITICS: PUTTING TOGETHER THE PUZZLE
Lahav Harkov
Jerusalem Post, Apr. 25, 2019
 
When President Reuven Rivlin officially tasked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with forming a government last week, Netanyahu said he wanted to get started as soon as possible on building a coalition with the same partners he had for the past four years. Of course, there was an unavoidable obstacle in the way of that goal: Passover. Only the nonreligious parties were willing to start this week – meaning Yisrael Beytenu and Kulanu – so not much progress was made.
 
If you’ve ever done a logic puzzle involving building a seating chart, you can understand what Netanyahu is going through right now. This one can only sit in this seat but won’t sit next to that one or the other, etc., and now Netanyahu has to find room for them all around one cabinet table.
 
Except that in those puzzles, the rules are solid and can’t be broken, while in coalition negotiations the bombastic demands we’ve been hearing for the past week-plus are really opening gambits. Only the parties making modest requests will get everything they want, while the others will have to prioritize.
 
The news about coalition talks over the next three weeks will be based almost entirely on insiders strategically leaking things to journalists, in an attempt to squeeze Netanyahu through the media. One could sleep until May 15 – the first deadline to form a coalition, if Netanyahu doesn’t request an extension – and not really miss much, because there is always a big gap between the talk and the final outcome.
 
But for those who are interested in seeing how Netanyahu solves this logic puzzle, here are some things to look out for:
 
• Rule of law. A leaked list of Union of Right-Wing Parties (URP) MK Bezalel Smotrich’s demands made waves this week, especially those demands having to do with the judiciary. Smotrich wants to be justice minister, and for the coalition to pass laws enabling the Knesset to repass laws struck down by the Supreme Court and to grant MKs automatic immunity from prosecution. That would include Netanyahu, whom Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit recommended be indicted on three counts of fraud and breach of trust and one count of bribery, pending a final hearing, as well as Shas leader Arye Deri and Likud MK David Bitan, who face their own investigations on corruption counts.
 
Smotrich has a formidable challenger for the Justice portfolio – Likud minister and Netanyahu ally Yariv Levin. Netanyahu reportedly favors Levin not only because they’re close, but because it would put the Likud in control of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which is chaired by the justice minister. But there would likely be very little opposition to the policies Smotrich wants to enact, certainly not from Levin. And by appointing Smotrich, Netanyahu could publicly wash his hands of the immunity bill, saying that it’s a conflict of interest and thus passively let it happen.
 
Opposition to these demands relating to the judiciary could come from Kulanu, since it had blocked such moves several times in the past four years. A source close to party leader Moshe Kahlon denied that he made an oft-quoted statement during the election campaign that he will no longer stand up against what he perceived as the weakening of the rule of law.
 
But the same source also denied Kahlon ever made a just-as-often cited statement that he would quit the coalition if Netanyahu is indicted. And the source said that when it comes to these matters, Kulanu doesn’t need veto power in a coalition agreement, because the numbers in the coalition speak for themselves – it will be nearly impossible to get a majority in a vote without them. In other words, Kahlon isn’t really saying where he stands on this for now.
 
• Settlements. Another Smotrich demand is extending Israeli sovereignty over all Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, canceling the IDF’s Civil Administration over them, and reestablishing communities in northern Samaria that Israel evacuated in 2005. We don’t know what’s in US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, except for strong hints from his advisers that it doesn’t include a two-state solution. But it’s still hard to believe that Netanyahu would tie his own hands and agree to a coalition agreement that includes this clause right before the Trump plan is expected to be presented.
 
However, URP also seeks to increase settlement in the West Bank, as well as industry and jobs in the region, and there would be no opposition to that from any other coalition partners, most likely including Netanyahu… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
 
 
NETANYAHU’S BRILLIANT VICTORY AND THE BATTLES YET TO COME
Isi Leibler
JTA, Apr. 21, 2019
 
Israeli voters have chosen Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in what was essentially a referendum over whether he should be re-elected for a fifth term. He was elected despite a hostile media, three pending corruption charges and 13 years in office. In three months, he will surpass David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving leader. Netanyahu ruthlessly dumped his allies at the very end of the campaign to increase his vote—a maneuver that led to his success.
 
His campaign also received an unprecedented boost from foreign leaders, including U.S. President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, all of whom effectively endorsed him the week prior to the election.
 
But the main reason for Netanyahu’s triumph was that Israeli voters, despite recoiling at his hedonism, instinctively felt that his expertise and experience were still critical and that none of his opponents could display even remotely similar levels of strategy and leadership.
 
Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s New Right Party failed (by a hair) to win enough votes to enter the Knesset. Had it qualified, Netanyahu would have the support of 69 Knesset members instead of 65.
 
This failure was a product of Bennett’s hubris. He persuaded Shaked—one of Israel’s most talented Knesset members—to join him in political oblivion. There is a likelihood that despite Netanyahu’s intense dislike of her, the Likud will bring her into its ranks. As of now, the Likud is also negotiating a merge with Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu Party, which would raise its numbers to 39.
 
In addition to the nightmare of satisfying conflicting ministerial demands, the prime minister faces enormous external challenges. The Trump peace plan is soon likely to be revealed. Even in the absence of a two-state policy, Israel will be asked to make territorial concessions that do not compromise security. Most Israelis may accept the proposals, but Netanyahu is dependent on the Union of Right-Wing Parties, which has threatened to leave any government that accepts territorial compromise.
 
The bulk of non-Orthodox American Jews have essentially abandoned Israel yet feel entitled to influence our security policies even against the will of the Israeli people and their democratically elected government. They are also incentivizing the Democrats, including hitherto supporters of Israel, to exert pressure on the Israeli government.
 
Is it unreasonable for Netanyahu to apply Israeli sovereignty to the major settlement blocs? We have waited decades—to no avail—to negotiate with the Palestinians on the future of the territories. Clearly, the settlement blocs should no longer be subject to negotiation. Now is a propitious time—unless the Palestinians miraculously reverse themselves and become flexible when the Trump peace plan is released—to finally formalize the status of over 500,000 settlers by extending Israeli sovereignty to them. Most Israelis would support this move, which would not reduce the Palestinians’ quality of life by an iota.
 
Such a step, even restricted to the major settlement blocs, would create an upheaval and the bulk of the world would condemn us. But if the U.S. stands by us, we should not miss such an opportunity to stabilize the area, laying the ground for a future settlement. Should we fail to do so, in the absence of a supportive U.S. government we will find ourselves continually negotiating over our rights in the major settlement blocs…. [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
 

ISRAEL’S RIGHT-WING MAJORITY
Nathan Sachs
Brookings, Apr. 11, 2019
 
If Israel holds elections in the year 2029, you might do well to bet on the right-wing Likud Party. Benjamin Netanyahu will probably no longer be prime minister by then—he faces an uphill battle to be prime minister a year from now if, as is likely, criminal charges are brought against him. On Wednesday morning, however, Bibi celebrated his fourth consecutive electoral victory and his fifth overall. He pulled through despite the pending criminal charges, despite a fairly unified opposition, and despite the many politicians fatigued by his tenure. The public as a whole does not appear to share that fatigue.
 
Israel has a multi-party system, and its elections can be inconclusive. But voters appear to have handed a clear victory to the right-wing parties that support Netanyahu, at least for now. Netanyahu will now move to form a coalition similar to his previous one, formed between his own enlarged Likud and other right-wing factions.
 
This summer, Netanyahu will become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, surpassing the founding leader of the country, David Ben Gurion. At about the same time, his lawyers are scheduled to meet with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to try and change the latter’s mind about indicting the prime minister for bribery and other charges in three criminal cases. Even while Netanyahu celebrates his victory among Israel’s 6 million eligible voters, his attention is squarely set on Mandelblit. Israel’s other politicians, meanwhile, are catching their breath from an ugly, whirlwind campaign, and coming to terms with the fact that they may need to campaign again before long, if Netanyahu is forced by his coalition partners to resign.
 
Netanyahu’s next major challenge will be trying to arrange for legislation to grant him immunity from prosecution, holding off the attorney general’s decision until after Netanyahu leaves office. It will be a tall order. Some in his future coalition have an incentive to see him go, with a chance to succeed him. Many of them would privately view such legislation as unethical. At least two potential coalition parties and even some Likud members have said publicly that they would not support it. Still, those statements were made before the elections, and the morning after an election tends to grant politicians absolution from campaign promises. It’ll be tough for Netanyahu to pull off immunity, but it’s not out of the question.
 
Two parties now stand far ahead of the others: the Likud and the opposition Blue and White, led by former military chief of staff Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s main challenger. The presence of two large parties harkens back to the early 1990s, when Labor and Likud dominated the political scene. Then, however, the minimum threshold for a party to enter the Knesset was only 1 percent of the total votes. Since then, the minimum has been gradually raised to 3.25 percent, placing a slew of parties in danger of not entering the Knesset, and placing their votes in danger of being discarded altogether.
 
Indeed, the results available as of Wednesday morning are preliminary: They include 97 percent of regular stations reporting, but do not include absentee ballots cast by military personnel—a considerable number of voters. They show two parties very near the minimum threshold of 3.25 percent, that could find themselves in or out of the Knesset when the final count is in later this week—the New Right party of outgoing Minister of Education Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and one of the two alliances of Arab-voter based parties—the very nationalist Balad and the Islamist Raam. Depending on whether one or both of them get into the Knesset, the seat allocation of other parties might change, although the right-wing advantage seems secure.
 
For Bennett and Shaked in particular, this will be a stinging defeat, even if their New Right does make it in. The two stars of the young guard on the right saw themselves as potential prime ministers. They chose to abandon the Jewish Home party, their Modern Orthodox-based party of old, and founded the New Right. Their hope was to move toward the center of secular society and offer a general right-wing alternative to the Likud rather than the sectarian Jewish Home, thereby creating a platform for national leadership. Even if they do make it in the Knesset after all votes are counted—still quite possible—their gambit will have failed.
 
The alliance they left behind, between the Jewish Home party and its partner Tkuma, feared falling below the minimum threshold. Netanyahu himself intervened—to his shame—to cajole them to join forces with Otzma Yehudit, a party of former members of Kach, the party of Meir Kahane, barred from elections in Israel after one term for his racism and shunned by all political parties since the 1980s. Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir used to walk out of the Knesset when Kahane spoke, to signal his disgust. The president at the time, Haim Herzog, would not even meet Kahane when he was elected to the Knesset.
 
Netanyahu succeeded in saving a Right-Wing faction from obliteration—the United Right List based around the Jewish Home made it in—but to Israel’s credit, none of the Kahanists will have made it in to the Knesset in the end. One was barred from running by the courts, another was too far down the list. (He may enter later, if ministers from the alliance resign from the Knesset … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
 

AN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVE ON ISRAEL’S ELECTION
Douglas J. Feith
Hudson Institute, Apr. 22, 2019
 
Much of the foreign commentary after Israel’s April 9 election has dealt with its supposed effect on Israel-Palestinian relations. Because the results were good for incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, critics say they are bad for “peace diplomacy.” As one Washington Post columnist complained, “Israel’s election has made the path to a two-state solution even rockier.”
 
To the average Israeli, these complaints are beyond stale, bringing to mind debates that raged mostly in the 1980s and 90s but today are nearly non-existent. What the election effectively confirms is that Israelis, by a huge majority, blame the lack of peace on the Palestinian Authority (PA), not on Netanyahu’s government. Although most remain willing to recognize Palestinian statehood, they’ve lost hope that this would satisfy their enemies or end the conflict.
 
As Haviv Rettig Gur puts it in his incisive Mosaic essay:
 
From the partisan division of the 1990s, the experience of the past two decades has pushed most Israelis to a new consensus. The essence of the consensus is that both sides were correct. Just as the left contended, extended Israeli control over the Palestinians is undesirable and untenable. Just as the right insisted, and as the intransigent irredentism of the Palestinians has shown, reconciliation is not in the cards.
This is why the conservative bloc—Netanyahu’ s Likud and the other parties now expected to form the next government—won 65 out of 120 parliamentary seats, while Likud’s main challenger, the new Blue and White party led by Benny Gantz, won an additional 35 seats by arguing that the country should rid itself of Netanyahu but retain his security policies. It also accounts for the remarkable fact that many young Israeli voters joined their elders in endorsing this consensus. According to a poll cited in the Wall Street Journal, “Likud won a plurality of eighteen-to-twenty-four-year-olds, with 27 percent, while the centrist Blue and White party received 21 percent.”
 
A quick jog through Israeli history will help explain how peace-processing evolved from a subject of hot controversy to a virtual non-issue. In Israel, debates about peace became venomous only in 1977, after the voters elected their first non-Labor prime minister: Likud’s Menachem Begin. Stunned Labor leaders, whose party had dominated Jewish politics in the Holy Land since the Zionist movement’s infancy, promptly began to argue that Likud’s brand of nationalism, including talk of Jewish historical and religious claims to the whole Land of Israel, constituted the main impediment to peace. (This did not explain why peace had eluded the several Labor prime ministers in the decade since the Six-Day War . . . but no matter.)
 
Labor pressed its argument that Likud was the anti-peace party even after Begin, in March 1979, concluded a peace treaty with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat that required Israel to remove all of its civilians and military forces from the Sinai Peninsula. Indeed, Labor leaders then insisted with increased conviction that Israel could end the Arab-Israeli conflict altogether if it were willing to continue to trade “land for peace”—that is, relinquish more of the territory lost by the Arabs when they initiated the 1967 war. Labor’s argument had appeal because it assured Israelis that they could control their own fate; they could have peace if they wanted it. By voting Likud out and restoring power to leaders ready to trade land, they could not only end the conflict, they could have “peace now”—a phrase that became the rallying cry of Israel’s self-designated “peace camp.”
 
When, starting in December 1987, the first intifada drove home the high costs of Israel’s control of the territories, the allure of “peace now” increased. That helped Labor’s Yitzḥak Rabin win the June 1992 elections on a platform promising a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians within nine months.
 
In September 1993, Rabin signed the Oslo accords with PLO chief Yasir Arafat. That the deal was far less favorable than what he had promised may account for Rabin’s dyspeptic appearance as he shook Arafat’s hand on the White House lawn. Nevertheless, Rabin declared he was putting Israel on the best available path to peace, and most Israelis gave their support… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]