After negotiations mirroring ‘Game of Thrones,’ Netanyahu forms coalition

Shlomo Cohen's daily cartoon for May 5, 2015, via Israel Hayom. Credit: Screenshot from Israel Hayom.

Weeks after the March 17 Israeli election and just hours before the midnight deadline on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party narrowly formed a coalition agreement with the addition of the religious Zionist Jewish Home (Habayit Hayehudi) party.

Just hours prior to the deal, Netanyahu was still scrambling to assemble his government. Observing the negotiations between Israel's political parties had became increasingly akin to watching an episode of "House of Cards" or "Game of Thrones," with talks among the right-leaning parties largely focused on veiled threats and squabbling over which ministerial positions would be given to which party leaders.

The Jewish Home party agreed to join the coalition only after Netanyahu agreed to its demand to appoint MK Ayelet Shaked as justice minister. Netanyahu also named Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett as the new education minister and outgoing construction minister Uri Ariel as the new agriculture minister.

Late on Monday night, Netanyahu had signed an agreement between his center-right Likud party and the religious party Shas, granting Shas leader Aryeh Deri the positions of economy minister and minister of development in the Negev and the Galilee. Members of Knesset from Shas will also serve as the religious affairs minister, deputy finance minister, and chairman of the Knesset Education Committee.

This decision had reportedly outraged the Jewish Home party, with Bennett demanding more senior positions as compensation if his party were to join the coalition. Netanyahu was already considering granting the Jewish Home several senior ministerial positions, as well as increasing the Education Ministry's budget.

Also on Monday, Likud had warned the Jewish Home that if it "refuses this proposal, there is just one alternative to a national Likud government: a left-wing government led by [Labor party leader Isaac] Herzog, which will not have Religious Zionist representation."

Earlier this week, Netanyahu's emerging coalition lost a potential partner in the Yisrael Beiteinu party after foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who leads that party, resigned Monday and announced that Yisrael Beiteinu would not join the coalition.

“We have come to a unanimous decision that it would not be right for us to join the coalition,” Lieberman told reporters, adding that “we chose our principles over cabinet seats.”

“Unfortunately, everything we wanted in coalition agreements and also that which we didn’t see brought me to the conclusion that the future will not be a government that serves national interests, but one that serves opportunists,” added Lieberman.

Likud responded harshly to Lieberman's criticisms, according to Israel Hayom, stating that Lieberman "is the last person who can preach about opportunism. He is a cynic. The biggest opportunist of them all." 

In response to these internal political squabbles, the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) had sent an open letter to Netanyahu, asking him to reform the electoral system by automatically making the leader of the largest party in the Knesset the prime minister, removing the requirement of a vote of confidence prior to the prime minister presenting his new government, and removing the stipulation that failure to pass a budget should automatically lead to new national elections.

"The emerging narrow coalition may very well be paralyzed and unable to address the fundamental challenges facing the Israeli economy and society," said Yohanan Plesner, IDI's president and a former Knesset member. 

For better or for worse, Israel's next government is now composed of those who were able to negotiate the best positions and make the necessary concessions. The others will have to fall back to the opposition. As Cersei Lannister once said, "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die." 

Posted on May 6, 2015 .