Analysis |

Israel's Most Polarized Knesset in 15 Years, at Least

The 20th Knesset was sworn-in on Tuesday, as speculation remains over the makeup of Netanyahu's next coalition.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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The new Knesset's faction leaders taking a group photograph. March 31, 2015.
The new Knesset's faction leaders taking a group photograph. March 31, 2015.Credit: Emil Salman
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

At least the people of Israel were spared one thing at the swearing in of the 20th Knesset – the orgy of hugs that swept the previous Knesset in its early days, inspired by the ridiculous fraternal alliance between Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett.

The two heroes of the previous election, who dictated the makeup of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, have been dispossessed, their tresses shorn. Yesh Atid lost eight seats and is headed for the opposition, while Habayit Hayehudi lost a third of its strength and is now fluttering between heaven and earth, awaiting Netanyahu’s decision on whether they are destined for power or the wilderness.

The event that symbolizes the vitality of Israeli democracy was not overly festive – perhaps because an identical event had been held in the same place only two years ago. The emotional appeal by President Reuven Rivlin to the coalition partners to expedite the formation of the government so the state could be rescued from the paralysis it’s been in since November is expected to fall on deaf ears. In the best tradition of local politics, they will probably take advantage of nearly all the 42 days foolishly allotted by the legislature.

The feeling among Knesset veterans is that this Knesset is more polarized than its predecessors, going back at least 15 years. The newest members of Labor, both in 2013 and this year, are not part of the so-called “mainstream.” They lean clearly to the left, both politically and socially. Most prominent among these are Yossi Yonah and Zohair Bahloul. In the Likud, too, a separation from the mainstream began with the last election, when Dan Meridor, Michael Eitan and Moshe Kahlon bolted, and it intensified this time with the departure of Rivlin, Gideon Sa’ar and Limor Livnat.

Which brings us to the question that has been hovering over the political system: Where is Netanyahu going? Ostensibly he is heading toward a narrow Likud-Haredim-rightist government, similar to the one that got him into trouble during his first stint as premier, from 1996-1999. Yet the questions persist. Why does he seem in no hurry to settle matters with his natural partner Bennett? Why is he accelerating the negotiations with the two Haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, which will be part of any government, whatever its composition?

The heads of the Zionist Union list continue to declare flatly that they are headed for the opposition. But behind the faction’s closed doors, the hot topic of conversation is joining the government. The current scenario has the Labor Party, without Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah faction of five MKs, being invited by Netanyahu to join the coalition. Livni won’t want to join anyway.

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