Who Will Form Israel's Next Coalition?

With Netanyahu-Lapid Talks Underway, Shas Knows Its Place Is at Stake

Together, Netanyahu and Lapid are worth 50 Knesset seats. Add to the pot Naftali Bennett and Shaul Mofaz, and you have a foundation for a coalition of 63 or 64 MKs.

Yair Lapid went back a year into the past through the time tunnel and opened Wednesday night’s television newscast live at one minute after 8 P.M. This time on all the news broadcasts on all the channels, but not in the newscaster’s chair rather in the role of kingmaker and the one pulling the strings in Israeli politics. In a short and sober statement, he took the crazy idea called a “preventive bloc” and “different government” that Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich tried to create in the past day and removed them from the public agenda.

Lapid hammered into place what was written the night before in huge letters on the political wall: Benjamin Netanyahu is the next prime minister. Weakened, bleeding, chastened and humbled, but still prime minister. And Lapid is his senior partner: Very senior, very strong and very influential. Together they are worth 50 Knesset seats. Add to the pot Naftali Bennett and Shaul Mofaz, and you have a foundation for a coalition of 63 or 64 MKs.

It is reasonable to assume that Tzipi Livni will be invited too. She is inclined to accept there is nothing for her in the opposition as the head of a faction of only six MKs. She will get lost there, just as she never found her place in the Knesset as the head of a faction with 28 MKs.

As to equals: A journalist from a foreign television station reported Wednesday to her viewers with great excitement that Lapid is known as one of the sexiest men in Israel. It is doubtful that she knew that 20 years ago that title belonged to a different politician at the beginning of his career: Benjamin Netanyahu. Ariel Sharon even called him “the model.”

Here is already one common denominator between the two where the similarity is greater than the difference. How easy it is to imagine them sitting together around the coffee table in the Prime Minister’s Office, enjoying an expensive cigar and drink, and talking heart-to-heart about the state of the middle class.

The coalition negotiations between Netanyahu and Lapid started on Wednesday on television, the medium where both of them feel the most at home of anywhere in the world. They first announced happily that Netanyahu's third government would deal with sharing the burden equally and improving the lives of the average citizen, who works, serves in the army and pays taxes.

The second praised the first for what he said. Nothing happened by chance. In between, Avigdor Lieberman appeared in the media after a long talk with Netanyahu and announced that the Finance Ministry portfolio was waiting for Lapid. This was the first round of the coalition negotiations, the first of many. Lieberman is worried that Lapid will demand the Foreign Ministry portfolio for himself, the same one that is being saved for Lieberman.

Lieberman is trying to push Lapid into the treasury with the excuse, which is justified in its own right, that there and not in the corridors of the United Nations is where the answer to Lapid’s campaign slogan “Where’s the money?” can be found.

Lacking real negotiations, these politicians have no choice but to run from one television studio to the next and send messages to the man in the fortified residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem and to the other parties.

The most touching appearances were those of the heads of Shas, Eli Yishai and Aryeh Deri, who clearly feel the chilling touch of the sword of opposition against their necks. They have never looked so conciliatory and ready to compromise on the loaded issue of drafting yeshiva students. “We’ll find a way,” they muttered in submission.

There is no one like Shas in adapting themselves to the spirit of the times. It is no surprise that two weeks ago Deri appealed to Netanyahu in a television interview and pleaded with him, almost in tears, to invite Deri to come and negotiate a coalition agreement with Shas on their entry into the government immediately. Deri’s keen instincts led him to believe that after the election Shas would be in a far worse situation.

Tomer Appelbaum, Reuters